In response to an incident of racial harassment that occurred on Binghamton’s West Side, students and University administrators met with representatives of the Binghamton Police Department (BPD) Tuesday, a day after students marched to the Couper Administration Building, where they demanded that President Harvey Stenger attend the meeting with BPD.
On March 7, several members of BU’s X-Fact’r Step Team were allegedly threatened by a local man as they practiced on Walnut Street. The members said they felt that BPD’s response was inadequate and that their concerns were not taken seriously.
On Tuesday, members of the team were accompanied by Chief Diversity Officer Valerie Hampton and Dean of Students April Thompson in their meeting with BPD. According to Epiphany Muñoz, secretary of X-Fact’r and a senior majoring in human development, the discussion centered on the reprimanding of the officers involved and the prevention of similar instances in the future.
“[Capt. Larry Hendrickson] said policies prevent him from being able to disclose specifics, but the officers have been spoken to about how they handled us,” Muñoz wrote in an email.
One day earlier, Muñoz and teammate Alexis Lashley, a senior majoring in psychology, were joined by approximately 50 protesters as they marched from the Pegasus Statue to the Couper Administration Building, chanting “No justice, no peace; no racist police.”
When they entered the building, they were met by Stenger, Dean of Students April Thompson, Provost Donald Nieman and Associate Chief Diversity Officer Nicole Johnson.
X-Fact’r had previously composed a list of three demands for the administration: publicly condemn the incident, support a further investigation and demand a reprimand of the Binghamton Police Department officers involved.
The meeting began with Muñoz directly asking Stenger if he supported these three demands. Stenger responded by generally agreeing to the first two points, while expressing hesitation regarding a reprimand of the officers.
“I want to make a statement that doesn’t just make the police more angry,” Stenger said.
Stenger emphasized that he has no direct control over the police force and therefore cannot reprimand the officers himself.
“I will speak to the mayor, not the chief, about the concerns we have in general about police interaction with our students in general and specifically what happened where you felt that the police didn’t really believe your side of the story,” he said.
The students pressed Stenger on whether he would attend the meeting with BPD.
“I have to rearrange some things tomorrow, but I will be at the police meeting tomorrow at four o’clock with the students,” Stenger said.
Stenger did not ultimately attend the meeting.
During the meeting on Monday, the dialogue became heated at several points. Students took aim and asked pointed questions to both Stenger and Johnson. Johnson was targeted for dominating the conversation and not allowing Stenger to answer questions directed at him, while Stenger was accused of not offering adequate answers to students.
“You’re not a person of color; you don’t know what’s best for us,” Muñoz said to Stenger. “We know what’s best for us and we are asking for your support.”
Stenger then interjected.
“Do you want me to come tomorrow or not?” he said.
Thompson, who lives near where the incident occurred, referred to the event as completely unacceptable.
“This should not have happened,” she said. “We have to find a way to combat those issues. We have to start coming together because the police are not going to solve the problem for us.”
After the meeting on Monday, Muñoz said she was not satisfied with the administration’s answers.
“President Stenger has since emailed myself and Toivo [Asheeke] saying that he will not be attending the meeting, claiming the contents of the meeting prevent additional membership, which is inaccurate,” Muñoz wrote in an email on Monday night. “It is my belief that he made up a reason not to attend, but that is just me.”
But following the meeting with BPD on Tuesday, she indicated that there had been some positive progress made.
“April Thompson and Valerie Hampton were both present and we’re highly supportive, offering X-FACT’R members who were involved rooms on campus to avoid retaliation,” Muñoz wrote. “We are very happy with the support given by April and Valerie.”
Keishorea Armstrong, a senior double-majoring in English and Africana studies, said she attended the protest on Monday to show solidarity with the students who were harassed and in hopes of prompting change.
“It’s a very real concern: being afraid every time you go home, knowing that you don’t have anyone to call if anything were to happen,” she said. “We can’t go to our administration, as we clearly saw today, and we can’t go to the police because they don’t care.”