In February, Binghamton Mayor Rich David announced an initiative, funded by Binghamton University, to extend the blue-light system to West Side Binghamton.
The plan, however, was met with criticism from residents and students who believe it will perpetuate community divisions and endanger minority students. Student groups like the Black Student Union have condemned the policy, and community groups have mobilized against the blue-light initiative, critiquing it for misrepresenting issues affecting Broome County residents.
Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier, a local nonprofit advocating for the rights of people of color and inmates, led the policy’s opposition.
Michael Stephens, a second-year graduate student studying sociology and a supporter of JUST, said the initiative prioritizes student safety over low-income and minority residents.
“This sends a message that there is a select segment of the Binghamton community — particularly the wealthier, more privileged, seasonal student residents of the city — who must be ‘protected’ from some danger, which the policy implies is the poorer, non-university affiliated population of the city,” Stephens wrote in an email.
Epiphany Muñoz, BU X-Fact’r Step Team secretary and a senior double-majoring in sociology and Africana studies, said students fail to understand the University’s impact locally.
“For students to come together and implement something like this without even considering the impact on the people who have to live here is entitled, problematic and perpetrates an ‘us vs. them’ narrative,” Munoz wrote in an email.
According to Munoz, many issues with crime in the city of Binghamton stem from an underlying issue of police indifference toward students and community members of color. Rachelle Jereza, a member of Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier and a second-year graduate student studying sociology, said she feared blue-light expansion will further police abuse in the city of Binghamton.
“If the blue light call box system is used by students, there’s no guarantee that people will be treated fairly by police once they respond,” Jereza wrote in an email. “X’ Factr’s recent experiences are a testament to this. Moreover, it might exacerbate issues of incarceration of POC and low income folks in Broome County.”
BU’s branch of the Roosevelt Institute submitted a student-crafted progressive policy which detailed safety objectives for the city of Binghamton. Prior to drafting the policy, the organization surveyed 635 students on their perceptions of important community issues, one of which was safety. To Stephens and his colleagues, this was an inadequate measure of city safety and did not depict community needs.
Members of the Roosevelt Institute met with members of Justice and Unity for the Souther Tier to discuss policy changes on multiple occasions, although the policy can only be enforced by BU administration and city government. According to Brianna Cea, president of the Roosevelt Institute and a sophomore double-majoring in political science and philosophy, politics and law, the mayor proposed rolling out the new camera and blue-light box system simultaneously. Cea said that she met with administration to request a pilot program without cameras to accommodate the organization’s requests.
“If we are to mend ‘town and gown relations’ with the community, we must work against that negative attitude and work together to progress our community, which includes the citizens of Broome County and the students of Binghamton University,” Cea wrote in an email.
Members of JUST such as Mary Lister, a senior majoring in sociology, argued that the boxes are an ineffective use of taxpayer and tuition funds. She said the blue-light system is antiquated, and that many universities like the University of Florida and the University of Colorado Boulder have removed the blue-light systems entirely, instead deferring to new mobile safety apps.
But cameras have also played a vital role in Binghamton police investigations. Jared Kraham, the deputy mayor of Binghamton, said there are 22 city-owned cameras located throughout Binghamton. According to him these cameras, as well as those that are privately owned, contribute to investigating and solving crimes. Kraham also added that public and private cameras provided key information in the Stefanie Lineva investigation last December.
Members of Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier demand that BU administration drop plans to implement the blue-light system and direct the funds to what they said were more promising initiatives. Lister wrote that money should be reallocated to make the University safer for students of color by increasing University Counseling Center funding so that additional counselors of color could be hired.
Shemar Middleton, a junior majoring in graphic design, said a better allocation of funds could go toward cultural competency and minority representation in the current police department.
“The problem isn’t necessarily danger,” Middleton said. “The problem is racism, which isn’t always tangible. I think people help people best, not machines.”