Andy Pragacz of Justice and Unity of the Southern Tier leads a discussion group on criminal justice reform at Rec Park in Binghamton on June 7, 2020.
Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin
Following a week of rallies, Binghamton activists and community members once again came together at Recreation Park, this time forming groups to openly talk about racial inequality and how to forge change.
The conservations, in Binghamton and across the county, were sparked following the death of George Floyd, who was killed on Memorial Day in Minneapolis after police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds while Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.”
About 400 residents came to Rec Park on Sunday, many speaking about criminal justice reform, affordable housing, education, substance-use issues and food justice. Residents split up into different groups to discuss each topic.
Afterward, the larger group met once again to share their thoughts and ideas. Here’s what were suggested about each.
Organizers Shanel Boyce and Salka Valerio, with Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, said they want to bring the discussion to Binghamton and Broome County leaders, and said they want the meeting tobe with all community members.
Valerio said, “It will be transparent, we don’t need backdoor politics. I am not the community, you are all the community.”
The leader of the group on education and the school-to-prison pipeline said there were four full pages of ideas from the community about current problems:
- Not enough teachers and administrators of color in schools.
- Not enough social and mental health services in schools.
- Too many police officers in schools.
- Black history should be part of essential curriculum.
- Children of color are marginalized in special education programs.
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The speaker who represented the housing group said housing is a human right that black and brown people should be able to attain:
- Establish a fair housing entity, described as a place where housing was just and fair, including an outlet for people to make housing complaints.
- Rejecting student and luxury housing development, and place a priority on housing for black and low-income families.
- There continues to be a lack of affordable housing.
Criminal justice reform
The focus group on criminal justice reform drew the largest crowd during the break-out groups:
- Defund police and prisons.
- Establish a mental health response team separate from the police force.
- Establish a sexual-assault response team specifically trained in anti-racism and cultural competency
- Funding for mental health and sexual-assault teams can come from police and prison budgets.
- Additional funds remaining after defunding police distributed to the community to help children’s programs.
- Establish a police review board, human rights commission and jail oversight board.
- A public advocate to assist in police brutality complaints.
- Reduce the police force and jail guards.
Andy Pragacz from Justice and Unity for the Southern Tier said, “We could start talking about that as a form of reparations, because the police and the prisons screwed (stuff) up in poor and black communities, so we have to pay back that debt for what police have done and the trauma they’ve caused in those communities.”
Substance use issues
Alexis Pleus, founder of TruthPharm, said the community coming together over the past week was, “Without a doubt the most powerful thing I’ve seen in my life, and I’m old.”
Some substance use discussion points include:
- Increase mental health treatment and continue mental health care.
- A safe place to use substances as a way to reduce overdose fatalities.
- Mandatory stigma reduction training for police.
- Separate police from emergency calls when it is related to mental health and substance use.
- Every school resource officer in Broome County to be replaced with a mental health counselor.
Food availability in the city
Two members of the Binghamton Food Rescue held a discussion group and said anyone in need of food can go to 85 Walnut St. on Saturdays from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Ideas that came about during their discussion include:
- Public shaming of supermarkets that are throwing out food, including taking photos when it’s seen and sharing on social media or sent to the Binghamton Food Rescue Facebook.
- Make sure there is an adequate supermarket on the North Side.
- A cooperative on the North Side of Binghamton rather than a large chain.
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