Close to 20 community members voiced a number of perspectives on gun violence from across the political spectrum at a series of panel discussions on protecting Broome County’s children on Wednesday evening.
The forum was held at the American Civic Association at 131 Front St. on Binghamton’s West Side, the site of a mass shooting on April 3, 2009.
Sarah Esposito, a fellow with the Children’s Defense Fund, a national organization that focuses on child advocacy and research, served as one of the moderators of the event. Esposito, who grew up in Endicott, said her father was working in Downtown Binghamton at the time of the shooting.
“An act of violence not only leaves a human-size crater in a family, but it shakes a community to its core,” Esposito said.
Samir M. Al-Salihi sat on the first panel, which focused on the effects of gun violence on the community. Al-Salihi’s wife, Layla Salman Khalil, was one of the 13 victims of the shooting at the American Civic Association. He stressed the complexity of the issue because of its pervasiveness in all public spaces.
“It happens everywhere and anywhere because these weapons are there,” Al-Salihi said.
Other panelists included Barb Mullins, a retired social worker who worked with adolescents at the Binghamton Psychiatric Center and in the Johnson City School District; Rebecca Staudt, a case advocate at RISE-NY, a local domestic violence agency in Broome County; and two Johnson City High School students, Timothy Reed and Kaitlin Antoine.
Staudt emphasized the importance of destigmatizing mental health and making resources accessible for victims of violence.
“Just knowing your community can really help with that referral process as things are getting tired,” Staudt said.
A later panel also featured Fred Brooks, a member of the Vestal Democratic Committee; Sgt. Andrew Eggleston of the Broome County Sheriff’s Office; and Michael Langston, a volunteer with Friends of NRA, a charity that is dedicated to educating others on the safe use of firearms.
In the short intermission between the panels, attendees discussed the ideas and issues posed by the panelists, facilitating dialogue among local residents of varying political views.
The purpose of the discussion, according to Benjamin Reynolds, a senior at Johnson City High School and a co-organizer of the event, was to encourage community dialogue on safety, education and communication regarding gun violence.
Tabatha Reed, the mother of panelist Timothy Reed, a senior at Johnson City High School, said she was happy to see her neighbors engaging in a broad conversation on factors that contribute to violence, like mental health, parenting and domestic violence.
“As everybody said, the problem is immense,” Reed said. “One thing will not fix it. Talking about all these things, I think, will only bring out good things.”