BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) – Two news conferences in honor of Juneteenth were held Friday at Binghamton City Hall. One, organized by city officials, was inside, while another organized by local Black activists was outside and included community participation.
Korin Kirk, who co-chairs the city’s Juneteenth committee, said the event at Mayor Rich David’s office was initially intended to be open to the community. Late Thursday, city officials chose to move the event inside after learning about another Juneteenth news conference and flag raising set for Friday morning. Deputy Mayor Jared Kraham said officials moved inside to avoid a “confrontational situation.”
Kirk said the mayor’s office notified her of the change Thursday night and told her only speakers would be allowed inside.
“When we’re trying to celebrate something so beautiful but then we’re squashed down, it doesn’t feel like a celebration at all,” Kirk said.
Many attendees at both Juneteenth events criticized the decision. In her speech, given inside City Hall, councilwoman Angela Riley acknowledged the location change restricted community participation.
“Unfortunately, I wish we could be outside where everyone could partake in this celebration,” Riley said.
Speakers at the mayor’s news conference, limited to 25 invited guests to maintain social distancing restrictions, included Broome-Tioga NAACP president Micah E. Barreiro and State Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo.
Binghamton resident Tamisha Manago said the mayor should speak directly to the community, inviting him and the other speakers to repeat their speeches at a community gathering in Columbus Park this weekend.
“If you’re going to give a speech, it should be given to my 13 year old,” Manago said. “The ones that deserve it and the ones that need it.”
David did not attend the outdoor news conference, organized by the local activist group P.L.O.T., or Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow.
In the past, the group has called for a public town hall meeting with Mayor David and other elected officials. However, David recently told the Press and Sun-Bulletin he is “hesitant” to meet with the group. There is a long history of tension between P.L.O.T. and the David Administration.
At Friday’s outdoor news conference, activist Shanel Boyce called on elected officials to be more transparent with the community, and to establish an independent, citizen review board.
“It’s not impossible, we gave you all the solutions, we gave you a myriad of solutions,” Boyce said. “You can even pick, choose and refuse, but the answer is we will not accept doing nothing.”
In the days leading up to Juneteenth, members of P.L.O.T compiled a list of reforms it plans to present to city and state officials. Their demands involved criminal and food justice reforms, as well as improvements to housing, education, mental health care and treatment for substance use.