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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Binghamton, My Battered Hometown

It was a year ago today when my hometown became the latest victim of seemingly random violence. I usually steer away from the phrase "senseless violence", because it gives the impression that violence is sensible. One can argue that it is necessary, such as in self-defense, but not that it's sensible.

In any case, I wrote this piece last year, and posted it elsewhere but I never actually posted it in THIS blog, to my surprise. So on the anniversary of the event here's what I wrote. The * is to an article link that no longer works.

I grew up on Gaines Street in Binghamton, NY's First Ward (or The Ward, as it was commonly referred to.) Gaines is a one-block street between Oak and Front Streets. When I walked to high school, I'd pass one house before heading south on Front Street. I'd go by the houses that were on my newspaper route a couple years earlier - the Evening and Sunday Press, back in the days when the city of 70,000 had two newspapers six days a week. Invariably, I'd look up Dickinson Street so see in the distance my elementary/junior high school, Daniel S. Dickinson. Then I'd go by the place I used to attend Bible study, followed closely by the American Civic Association, then turn right onto Main Street to get to Binghamton Central high School.

The ACA was not just a place I went by, though. My late father, Les Green, was active in the civil rights front and the Association was active in trying to bring different people together, so he had some relationship with the place, the specifics of which unfortunately escape me.

What I do remember, though, is the fact that my father, sister Leslie and I performed there at least once as the Green Family Singers, with a repertoire of folk, gospel and popular songs. More ingrained in my mind is the fact that in March of 1969, I had my 16th birthday party there. This was an extravagant act on the part of my parents, I thought, renting out the hall for my friends and me. (I specifically recall my father catching one couple making out in a closet.) I still remember some of the presents I received, including Judy Collins' Who Knows Where the Time Goes.

Then on April 3, 2009, the place of some very pleasant memories became the location of yet another batch of senseless violence. Reading the coverage was not an act of disengaged voyeurism; I walked those streets shown on the television, probably a thousand times or more. And my hometown, now a city of 45,000, with but one public high school that was for a time in lockdown that day, became, most awfully, the lead story on the evening news.

Reading the reports, I couldn't help noting that there are those who will always comment on a story to drive home their agenda. In the city's now single local paper's website*, along with expressions of sympathy, distress about the human condition, requests for more help for the mentally ill, and people on both sides of the gun control issue were xenophobic rants about immigration, as though that were the lesson to be learned. I happened across this list of recent mass killings - which I did not even have to look for - makes such a conclusion just bizarre to my mind.

I will save the whys for later. Right now, all I can do is grieve for my hometown in a way that words fail.


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