Community members took to the streets to draw attention to issues surrounding police violence — this time focusing on how it relates to children.
On April 24 at 3 p.m., a rally called “Black Children Matter” was hosted at Recreation Park by Citizen Action of New York, Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT), Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier (JUST), Truth Pharm and 100 Black Men of Broome County. The event was brought on by the recent deaths of Ma’Khia Byrant, 16, in Columbus, OH, Anthony Thompson Jr., 17, in Knoxville, TN, Adam Toledo, 13, in Chicago, IL and Daunte Wright, 20, in Brooklyn Center, MN — all at the hands of the police within the last month. Students, community members and children came together at the park to discuss actions that could be taken to stop police violence.
Shanel Boyce, ‘14, MSW ’18 and a community organizer, saw the event as a chance for people to come together and have their grievances be heard.
“It’s always about building community because I know we’ve been locked up, most of us during this whole pandemic, and we really want to make sure we give people a space just to be in community with one another,” Boyce said. “But also to bring visibility and give people a chance to speak out, whether that’s about their own experiences with Binghamton City School District, especially with the whole wave of events that we’ve been dealing with in this city, but also as Black and brown children continue being killed by police.”
Another cause of the rally was a recent controversy involving MacArthur Elementary School in Binghamton and the Binghamton Police Department (BPD). The book “Something Happened in Our Town” was used as part of one teacher’s lesson on tolerance earlier this month. The book, which follows two families, one white and one Black, after a Black man is shot by police in their town, was read aloud for students in a video posted on YouTube and was chosen as the school’s “book of the month.”
The Binghamton Police Benevolent Association (BPA) issued a statement claiming that the book was teaching children that they could not trust the police.
“While we recognize that it is not incumbent on us to determine what should be taught in schools, we feel that the language in this book works to undermine public safety and will leave children with the impression that they cannot trust the police,” the statement said.
In response, MacArthur Elementary School issued an apology and removed the book from the curriculum. A school board meeting was held on April 20 to discuss the book and the controversy surrounding it. After a group of families felt that they were not heard at the local school board meeting, the “Black Children Matter” rally was created. The rally aimed to give a voice to these families and hoped to develop a plan going forward for how to keep Black and brown children of the Binghamton community safe while working with the school district to increase diversity on the Binghamton Board of Education.
The crowd marched from the park to Binghamton High School, where they blocked the street to use as a stage to introduce the school board candidates and inform citizens of resources they may find helpful in the area. Marcia Gates, 45, of Vestal, recounted a negative experience her son had with the police.
“My son, who is 16 now, was 12 or 13 playing in this park — this very park — with his friends playing tag, it got dark and he had cops roll up on him with hands on guns because his friends are Black,” Gates said. “It is terrifying. They came running back to our house — we lived a couple blocks from here — terrified. We’re back in Vestal now, but his white friends would never get that. They would never have a hand on a gun while they’re playing. It just wouldn’t happen. These are the stories that a lot of people don’t believe exist, and they do — here in this community.”
Mary Kay Diakite, 52, of Horseheads, said she hopes the rally will help bring awareness to the issues surrounding childhood police brutality.
“[I hope the community] gains awareness of the dangers that Black children are living in now, as the age of people getting killed by police is getting lower and lower — it just gets scarier,” Diakite said. “And people really need to come together so that this can end and we can all live in safety.”
Boyce continued to discuss how the Binghamton City School District has frequently cycled back on reform when members of the community are upset.
“I want this to be very clear, the Binghamton City School District, the school board and superintendent, they have a long history of walking back when they realize that the community is angry,” Boyce said. “But we have the statements to show that the reason why they pulled that book and they took down the video of that teacher, that very brave teacher, was because they were apologizing to the [BPA]. And that’s inexcusable, it really is. Law enforcement is not supposed to be able to dictate curriculum.”
Three school board candidates spoke at the event and introduced themselves and their missions. One of the candidates, Cecil Hopkins, B.A. ‘18, MAT ‘20 and owner and lead groomer of Nox Grooming in Binghamton, said her mission would be to bring more diversity to the school board.
“I always wanted to do something in education, wanted to be in a classroom, and I was going to run eventually, but [the school board’s April 20] meeting was a clusterfuck,” Hopkins said. “So I was like, ‘They’re not listening, they don’t really care, so let’s have more of our people on there. More that look like us.’ I’m Black, I’m queer and I’m trans, so bring it on.”
Another candidate, Adrian Tauterouff, 34, of Binghamton and a parent of two students at Calvin Coolidge Elementary School, said his goal is to support working families.
“I’m running because I’m sick of seeing a board that does not represent the beauty and diversity of the community that it represents,” Tauterouff said. “I’m sick of working families and seeing mothers, like my wife and my mother before her when I was coming up, having to choose between working to put food on the table and having time to feel like their voices are heard and getting involved with the school process.”
Another candidate, Ashley Montalvo, of Binghamton and founder of Ms. Ashley’s Virtual Classroom, said her objective would be to create a more equitable school board.
“I’m running for school board, I have a lot of education experience, but the main thing is the representation for me,” Montalvo said. “Not only to be a voice on the board, but for our children to see, just like [how] people were excited to see a Black female vice president, same kind of thing. The leadership that our children are seeing, that representation that it could be possible for them to effect change in their community.”
Community organizers ask that members of the Binghamton community make sure they get out and vote on May 18 for the school board election.