In an effort to combat racism at a local level, Binghamton University students and community members presented a pledge to area business owners to stand up against discrimination.
The pledge was presented at a rally Downtown Friday night as part of a larger effort by the Confronting Racism Coordinating Committee to put an end to discriminatory policies in local businesses.
Several businesses signed the pledge that they would not discriminate based on race, age or sex. Signers included representatives from RiverRead Books, Merlin’s, Tom & Marty’s and the Bundy Museum. Mayor Matthew Ryan, members of the Binghamton City Council and Democratic mayoral candidate, Teri Rennia, all signed the pledge as well.
Larry Shea, co-owner of the State Street bar Tom & Marty’s, said that racism and discrimination are still present in his industry.
“In the bar business in particular, I’ve seen many instances of institutional racism,” Shea said. “Equating criminality and problem behavior — which we do all have to combat — with being black. Unfortunately, it’s still true in many parts of the community.”
Other businesses on State Street have come under scrutiny following a video posted on YouTube last month, which depicted Kyle Isiah Lovett-Pitts, 21, a black student at SUNY Broome Community College, being called racial slurs outside of Dillinger’s Celtic Pub and Eatery on State Street.
Stacey Lovett-Pitts, Kyle’s mother, spoke at the rally about the discrimination she said her son faced.
“An injustice was done to him. He was denied access to Dillinger’s and arrested for disorderly conduct even though he did nothing,” she said. “Right now we are marching so we can tell everyone that we will not tolerate these types of things in our area anymore. What they did was wrong.”
According to court records, Lovett-Pitts was arrested for disorderly conduct on Aug. 25, 2013 after he “did return to 77 State St. and threaten bar staff after being given lawful orders to leave the area twice previously by uniformed police officers.”
Dillinger’s declined to comment on the incident when Pipe Dream contacted the pub Tuesday.
According to Mayor Ryan, Dillinger’s hired a consultant to help with their issues of discrimination, including taking down some signs that patrons found offensive.
“They’re making real, concrete efforts to try to address that situation,” Ryan said. “I think it’s good that [the Confronting Racism Coordinating Committee] is bringing this to all of State Street so that everyone who comes to our city feels comfortable.”
Many students who attended the rally Friday night came in direct response to the incident at Dillinger’s. Raye Holab, a sophomore double-majoring in Chinese and comparative literature, said she attended the rally to protest the policies of some local businesses.
“It’s just completely unthinkable that this can still happen, and it’s happening here so we’re going to do something about it,” Holab said.
Shehryar Qazi, a graduate student studying sociology and a rally organizer with the CRCC, said that the incident at Dillinger’s provided an opportunity to talk about discrimination in the community.
“It was a heinous act, but it can at least start a conversation, because it feels like the conversation about racism is almost nonexistent,” Qazi said.
Ibrahima Balde, who attended the rally, saw it as part of a larger effort to spread equality.
“We need to step up and show them that we will not be silenced at all,” said Balde, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “We are all equals, and we expect to be treated equally.”
Several administrators from the University were in attendance.
“I just wanted to come out and, one, be supportive, but also make sure that everything goes okay,” said Milton Chester, the associate dean of students.
More than 150 protesters carried signs that said “Racism: Spot it. Stop it,” and led chants of “We will not be silenced” and “Racism is real, get real.”
“I think that it’s important that we acknowledge that there are issues, that we address those issues and that we come together as a community,” Rennia said, adding that if she is elected mayor, “We’re going to make sure that everybody has a seat at the table.”