While community elders tried to bring calmer minds to the fifth night of demonstrations Sunday over the March death of Daniel Prude, the mayor of Rochester assured reforms are coming to the city’s police department. Daniel died after losing consciousness when police held him down with a hood over his head. At a news conference Sunday, Mayor Lovely Warren stated that she would move the crisis intervention team and its budget from the police department to the city’s department of youth and recreation services. She indicated that the move would be part of a series of reforms planned for “the coming weeks, months, and years.”
Warren said there was a human being in need of help, and compassion and people had an opportunity to protect him, to keep him warm, to bring him to safety, to start the process of healing him, and to lift him. She added that people have to own the fact that they did not do that at that moment. On the other hand, the Police Chief La’Ron Singletary said he was working with experts and clinicians in getting outpatient services for people with mental health issues that bring them into repeated police contact and was behind the needed reforms in his department.
Last week, after Prude’s family released police video from the March night when he was restrained on a city street, the seven officers involved in his death were suspended by Warren. The video shows the officers using a “spit hood” designed in protecting them from bodily fluids, to cover Prude’s head after complying with being handcuffed. They then pressed his face into the pavement for two minutes. At the time of his arrest on the light-snowy day in March, Prude, 41, was naked and died a week later after he was taken off life support. According to the police union head, the officers were following their training. Since the family released the video on Wednesday, protests have followed each day.
The police stated that more than 1,000 demonstrators assembled in downtown Rochester on Sunday night, chanting, “We are elders, and we support our youth” and “say his name, Daniel Prude.” In uniting the crowd early on in the night, protest organizers had speeches scheduled. Kera Turner, a protester, said she came out that night as a born and raised Rochesterian who loves her city. She added that she “threw up” when she first saw the footage of Prude from March. She said, “It’s just unacceptable.”
Even as the protest seemed to be peaceful late into Sunday night, Lt. Greg Bello of the Rochester police said in a news release that three officers sustained injuries after “projectiles and incendiary devices” were hurled at them during Saturday night’s protests over Prude’s death. Greg said they were treated at hospitals, and nine protesters were arrested. On the other hand, the Democrat and Chronicle said that as thousands marched through the streets of New York’s third-largest city; some protesters were hit by projectiles. Police provided no information about injuries to protesters.
In serving as a “buffer” for protesters to be free to express themselves without police interference, the Rev. Myra Brown asked around 50 church elders to assemble at Spiritus Christi Church in downtown Rochester on Sunday evening. Brown said at the news conference with the mayor and police chief Sunday that they had volunteered to put their bodies on the line to make sure it happened. The New York Civil Liberties Union condemned the police use of “military tactics.”
NYCLU Genesee Valley chapter director Iman Abid said in a statement Sunday that people speaking out are not enemy combatants, and to fire flashbangs, tear gas, and pepper balls at demonstrations against police violence only prove the point. Iman added that the mayor and RPD must stop these warfare tactics. The marches went on as New York’s attorney general stated on Saturday that a grand jury would investigate Prude’s death. Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement Saturday that the Prude family and the Rochester community had been through great pain and anguish.
Before Prude’s death, his brother, Joe Prude, called 911, looking for help for his erratic behavior. Prude had run away from his brother’s home late in the night, around eight hours after officers had already taken him into custody for a mental health check because of suicidal thoughts. Prude was released after spending a few hours in the hospital for the assessment. The Monroe County medical examiner indicated that Prude’s death was a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.”
In April, a police internal affairs investigation stated that the police’s “actions and conduct displayed when dealing with Prude appear to be appropriate and consistent with their training.” On Thursday, the seven officers were suspended, and the demonstrators have called on Warren and Singletary to step down over the delay in releasing details of Prude’s death. They are also calling for police accountability and legislation to change how authorities respond to mental health emergencies.