OSWEGO — College-based activists this weekend will present a list of demands to local leaders, including policies they say will address “heightened, uneven and disproportionate policing of students of color.”
Energized by a nationwide tide of social upheaval and a June 7 rally that drew hundreds to Oswego City Hall, the coalition of students, community members and supporters plans to march through the Port City streets again Sunday, June 14, beginning at SUNY Oswego’s Sheldon Hall at 1:30 p.m.
“We urge the Mayor and Common Council to prioritize funding for programs and community organizations to work in crisis intervention and prevention,” says a letter addressed to Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow. The protest will also celebrate the upcoming Juneteenth holiday, which marks the effective end of American slavery dating back to June 19, 1865.
The letters to Barlow and SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley, reviewed this week by The Palladium-Times, touch on a number of diversity, inclusivity and racial topics but center on a newly popular rallying cry: “defund the police.”
“Poverty, addiction and mental health have become criminalized in the city. By moving resources away from police and toward social services, all residents of Oswego and Oswego County will profoundly benefit,” the letter to Barlow reads. Current SUNY Oswego Student Association President Lizbeth Ortega signed the letter, joined by alumnus Omar van Reenen and the membership of Accept Oswego, a local organization founded to provide resources and support for LGBTQ youth.
The group’s demands range from symbolic to aspirational to dollars-and-cents. Among the demands: celebrate the upcoming Juneteenth holiday by hoisting a Black Lives Matter flag at city hall, mandate the Oswego Police Department (OPD) and city officials “actively engage with anti-bias/anti-racism education,” and, as a centerpiece, “defund the police and re-fund social services… (with) more resources into public education, quality mental health centers, affordable housing, wide-ranging transport, low-cost/subsidized child care… and health care for all.”
“Our jails have become mental health treatment centers, and our students of color have been overly policed, and face hostile policing in conjunctions with some residents with racial biases,” the letter concludes. “Thus, the Student Association Executive Branch of SUNY Oswego, along with the support of Accept Oswego, vehemently endorses the following demands for divesting from police and investing in our community, and call your attention to their swift implementation.”
In lengthy correspondence with The Palladium-Times, Barlow addressed the demands — some individually, some as a group.
Oswego Mayor Billy Barlow answers list of demands from protesters
Demand: ”Fly the BLM/Pan-African Flag to commemorate Juneteenth and stand in solidarityagainst institutional racism and police brutality.”
Barlow reply: “We always honor and welcome requests to hang flags, light City Hall and participates in campaigns for various causes. If the march ends near a city flag pole and they want to hang the flag, go ahead.”
Demand: “Expand and empower the Campus-City Relations Committee to include more students and disenfranchised residents, tasking them to oversee the implementation of reform in city.”
Barlow reply: “I’m more than happy to expand the CCRC. I appoint the members of the committee, but since being Mayor, I’ve let the Chairperson recommend who they want on the committee and I always go with their recommendation. I appointed Dr. Rodmon King, SUNY Oswego’s Chief Officer for Diversity and Inclusion, as the chairperson currently and welcome any suggestions the committee produces.”
Demand: “Mandate OPD and City Officials actively engage with Anti-Bias/ Anti-Racism education.”
Barlow reply: “We already mandate anti-bias training, anti-racsim training not only for OPD but all city personnel. We also do annual de-escalation training for OPD.”
Barlow addressed the following demands as a group:
“Defund the police and re-fund social services; place more resources into public education, quality mental health centers, affordable housing, wide-ranging transport, low-cost/subsidized child care, access to capital for small business and health care for all regardless of income.”
“Invest in mental health professionals for mental health/opioid calls.”
“Increase funding for non-profit community programs in crisis intervention/prevention.”
“Move resources where community needs it most; through funding for mental health services, youth programs, food banks, and impoverished residents.”
Barlow reply: “I do not, in any way, shape or form, support defunding our police department. I support and strongly believe there needs to be more resources for mental health professionals I support funding for nonprofits for crisis intervention. Since taking office, I’ve supported several programs and initiatives to improve and expand youth programming opportunities and we conduct our LIFT anti-poverty initiative, funding several effective programs to give individuals the resources they need and the opportunity they need to improve their lives and escape poverty. We also transformed our Rental Assistance Program that, instead of simply being a public subsidy available, now provides real resources to people on our program to be able to get employment, get better, safe housing, and have real opportunities. Lastly, our code enforcement program and all we’ve done to crack down on landlords and improve housing conditions in our community serves our student population and low-income population here in Oswego. We’ve demanded better housing conditions at a fair price for four years now and you can clearly see it has improved the housing stock and introducing other competition has stabilized prices, making housing much more affordable and accessible in the area.”
SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley on Saturday morning released a statement in response to demands. The statement, in the form of a reply letter, started with thanking the organizers and participants in recent local protests.
"We accept your letter and affirm that we will work with you as addressed in each of your requests below," Stanley said. "Over the past two years, we have accomplished much working together with our students toward ensuring our campus operates in all matters with equity and justice."
The text of Stanley's letter, enumerated as responses to protester demands, appears below:
"While we have not and will never consider this to be work that is done or completed, thanks to your input and perspectives we have implemented the use of body cameras by University Police, improved our bias related reporting system, removed unnecessary fees that created economic barriers, strengthened the relationships and representation of students on committees, and established an ongoing commitment to improving our community relations and culture.
We will continue to stand together to root out racism and enact positive change for our community. As such, please find our enumerated responses below.
Upon the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act being passed by both houses of the New York State Legislature on June 8, 2020, SUNY Oswego and the University Police (UP) amended its policy (Section 300 3.4) by removing the use of carotid controls / “chokeholds” from its handbook.
While our faculty develop and enact curriculum, I will ask them to designate a pilot course or courses in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that will be offered as early as this fall 2020, if feasible. Also, I have asked Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Scott Furlong to work with the General Education Council of the Faculty Assembly to implement the general education requirements related to diversity, equity, and inclusion that are now being proposed by our faculty.
Additionally, Vice President Furlong is working closely with the Department of Criminal Justice to assess and ensure there is material infused throughout criminal justice courses related to institutional and systemic racism.
We unequivocally support free speech. The principles of free speech and expression are fundamental to an open society. While some ideas and opinions are vastly different from our own and may be offensive to what we think and believe, I strongly encourage all to rebut expressions of others with their own words and voices. Further, I will use my voice to express my beliefs and discredit certain views even while I must allow others to speak. However, any speech or symbolic speech which threatens or produces violence or any unlawful behavior will not be tolerated.
In regard to a system of reporting bias related incidents, the college has already put in place several avenues for reporting incidents of bias or concern. You may find them at https://www.oswego.edu/student-conduct/report-incident or at https://www.oswego.edu/police/bias-crimes-and-prevention. Moving forward, the college will enhance the promotion of its system of reporting through pervasive social media avenues.
The college will recognize and celebrate Black Solidarity Day, and I will request that the Calendar Committee of the Faculty Assembly review policies related to tests/exams/attendance on Black Solidarity Day.
In regard to the flag resolution, I have asked the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Rodmon King to provide an update to the campus on the work of the Flag Committee by June 30, 2020 and to complete the flag policy by August 1, 2020
While waiting for the Flag Committee to issue its report, we will proudly accept the Black Lives Matter flag on June 14, 2020 for the purpose of flying it on the SUNY Oswego campus.
This is an incredibly important time in our history when people across all of American society are open and ready to address structural and systemic racism. SUNY Oswego will live its educational mission to the fullest, and with deep commitment and understanding, we will be unwavering in pursuing justice, equality and peace. We will not rest. I hear you, I am listening to you, I stand with you.
Respectfully … your ally,
Deborah F. Stanley
President, SUNY Oswego"