After a summer of demonstrations against racial injustice, Binghamton community members are focusing on how to bring change to the Southern Tier.
On Sunday, Sept. 27, 30 community members and Binghamton University students and faculty gathered in Cheri A Lindsey Memorial Park in Binghamton to discuss police accountability, divesting from police and reinvesting in the community. The forum was hosted by Divestment, Accountability and Reinvestment in Our Community (DAROC), which is a coalition of several local organizations such as Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST), Truth Pharm and Citizen Action of New York. DAROC began holding these meetings last week and has dates planned for future meetings until the end of October.
At the start of the meeting, Andy Pragacz, a visiting assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at SUNY Cortland, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at BU and a member of JUST, explained how the meeting is a continuation of the demonstrations in Binghamton since the death of George Floyd in May.
“We want to take from just protesting and talk about other solutions — how we actually defund the police and hold police more accountable, in particular,” Pragacz said.
Literature passed out to attendees included a proposed police accountability law and plans to divest from local police and the Broome County Jail.
The attendees were split up into two groups to brainstorm ideas on divestment and reinvestment. Participants were given 12 stickers to represent the 12 Binghamton Police Department (BPD) officers who have been hired since Binghamton Mayor Rich David took office in 2014, according to DAROC. Participants could then divide up their stickers among a dozen posters labeled with various programs that could help the community, such as youth summer jobs, Black and minority small business grants and housing assistance. This served to show how the cost of the 12 police officers could be reallocated to other services.
After the exercise, the attendees reconvened to discuss the next steps. Abby Melillo, a senior double-majoring in human development and Spanish, said although there was some disagreement, the discussion was productive.
“I hope that we can start to solidify ways that we can actually hold police accountable, because I think that is the biggest question mark throughout this whole thing — trying to imagine how we’ll actually hold cops accountable,” Melillo said.
Lizzie Nutig, a senior double-majoring in sociology and philosophy, politics and law, expressed a similar sentiment and is optimistic about what is to come.
“There’s a lot of moving parts right now,” Nutig said. “And a lot of, ‘Where do we go from here?’ but there are so many places where we could go from here.”
Pragacz said he has been working on criminal justice in Broome County for the past five years and understands the frustration some expressed during the discussion. However, he feels there is a way to get these community improvements accomplished.
“The frustration you’re hearing is, ‘Okay, what are we actually going to accomplish with this?’” Pragacz said. “Obviously the only way any of this is going to happen is with a very large group of people pushing it consistently and to drive home these reforms.”
Terri Weathers, 50, of Binghamton, attended the first DAROC forum and also believes action is the next step. She was impressed by Sunday’s turnout and wishes to see the meetings continue to grow.
“I hope that their next meeting is even bigger,” Weathers said. “I hope that they pinpoint the direction that we’re trying to move this. And I really hope to see some large action happening when the budget is actually being discussed in the towers of power in Binghamton. I really hope to see some strong community involvement — some bodies.”
Maliyka Muhammad, 63, of Binghamton, who said she has been fighting for racial justice since the era of the civil rights movement, shared her historical perspective on the movement and feels like more people need to get involved.
“As far as I’m concerned I did this already,” Muhammad said. “I did it down in the city. I remember marching, ‘No justice, no peace,’ police brutality and people getting assassinated. A lot of the Black leaders like Malcolm X, assassinated — Martin Luther King, assassinated. They had different ideologies, but they were still for the same goal. We’re here in Binghamton, we know that this was the national headquarters for the [Ku Klux Klan] and people are still sleeping.”
The next meeting will be Saturday, Oct. 3, at 1:00 p.m., at Walnut Street Park in Binghamton.