Published on May 19, 2016 at Binghamton Political Buzz by Michael “Vass” Vasquez
Like many cities across America, Binghamton, NY, has now been introduced to the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement. Similar to the introduction of Occupy Binghamton, the introduction of BLM came in the form of a protest march on May 18, 2016. The theme of the protest was the disapproval from BLM on how Black students are treated in the Binghamton City School District.
Some 50 protestors, comprised of adults and children as young as 10, gathered in front of City Hall to announce their displeasure chanting “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” Though the Binghamton Police Department confirmed they were aware of the event some 100 feet away, and that there was a lack of permits having been filed, no action was taken to hinder or interrupt the event. Binghamton Police were also not requested by BLM to provide protection for protestors.
Many of those in the small group were members of Citizen Action and/or Working Families Party, especially the speakers at the event. Robert “Bobbie” Black, the Director for Citizen Action and Larry Parham, Working Families Party State Delegate and board member of Citizen Action, were among keynote speakers. In addition, Kymel Yard who ran unsuccessfully for the Binghamton school board (coming in last among candidates), was another speaker at the event.
Among the issues mentioned by the group were a demand for increased spending on Black students and concerns about keeping Black students in school. The speakers also addressed the concern of some of the handful of counter-protestors that were also at the event. The counter-protestors carried signs stating that “All lives matter.” They had also asked why BLM, and the organizations involved in the event, failed to support the Equal Access to Opportunities for People of Color (EAOPC) event on May 11, 2016. That EAOPC event included Mayor Rich David and Police Chief Joseph Zikuski, specifically to hear and address the concerns of the community on race relations – a key issue of BLM and Citizen Action – but only 3 people reportedly attended the event.
The response by Larry Parham on the lack of attendance was, “The people[organizing the EAOPC event] didn’t do the work.” Linda Hamilton, who was one of the 3 people that did attend the EAOPC event with the Mayor and was one of the counter-protestors later commented,
“All lives matter. Everyone is equal, no one is special… The Police came and were willing to have questions directed at them [at the EAOPC event] and it bothered me that a week later all these people at this event could have attended. My take on it, instead of sitting down and discussing some people want a spectacle.”
But it’s the issues mentioned by BLM protestors that may be most puzzling. According to data from the New America Foundation, an independent non-partisan source on federal education funding, from 2008 – 2012 (the last date of reported information) per student spending increased 15% for the Binghamton City School District. Comparatively this matched increases by the Niagara Falls City School District, and was double the Poughkeepsie City School District and Central Islip Free Union School District increases as comparison examples. In addition, the Binghamton City School District budget, approved by voters by a 3:1 margin, increased spending by $5 million (4.57%) to $112 million from 2015.
There was also the claim about disproportionate suspension rates. Larry Parham asserted approximately 80% [See our exclusive video interview] of Black male students with disabilities are primarily affected by this and it leads directly to prison,
“That sets up the school to prison pipeline. Suspension, referral, drop-outs, kicking kids out of school, whatever you want to call it, all feeds the school to prison pipeline.”
But it is unclear where such data, or conclusion, comes from. According to NYS Education Department (NYSED) records (2012-13) just 24% of all Binghamton District students are Black/African-American. Of the total 5,651 students, there were 808 (14%) that were listed as having disabilities – the group of students cited as having higher than State average suspension rates. NYSED does not report the ethnicity or race of students suspended, thus calling the claim into question.
Further, according to district records from September 2014 to April 2016, the number of suspensions in the Binghamton City School District decreased by 30%. In Binghamton High School, during this time period, there was a 26% decrease in suspensions although there was a 16% increase at East Middle School.
Another factor that changed in the school district was the recent removal of former Superintendent Marion Martinez in March. She was fired after a unanimous vote of no confidence from the Binghamton Administrative and Supervisory Association and requests by teachers, administrators and parents in part due to the issues at East Middle School. None of these facts were addressed by the BLM, Citizen Action, or the Working Families Party.
After the event, we had the opportunity to speak with Larry Parham about the mission and goals of the BLM. He stated, when asked if the BLM believes that the public has a right to equity as opposed to equality, that
“Everybody has a right to equity. This country guarantees us equal rights. Those rights are guaranteed to us, equal rights, based on our need… People don’t need the same thing. So we can’t bring parity in the country by dealing strictly with equality. And that’s what we are trying to do, bring parity to the country.”
While most in the nation might question a right to parity that does not exist in the Constitution or Amendments, at least the Binghamton version of Black Lives Matter apparently consider this to be a fundamental fact that has motivated this protest. Considering the appearance of BLM protestors and Citizen Action members at the school board meeting later that day, the City of Binghamton may once again be subject to a long visit by this progressive faction just as Occupy Binghamton did in 2011.
** Correction – This article initially identified Lawrence “Larry” Parham as Larry Parr. We apologize for the error in the article and video. The article has been corrected. Neither Larry Parham, nor Citizen Action, contacted us to make the correction, which delayed correction. **