A demonstration in Rochester, N.Y., over a grand jury’s decision not to indict police officers in the March 2020 death of Daniel Prude ended peacefully Tuesday night (Feb. 23). Frustrated citizens took to the streets in protest after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement announcing no charges would be filed.
Activist group Free The People Rochester organized a protest march for the early evening on the intersection where Prude died while being taken into custody. Mayor Lovely Warren said that peaceful protests would be allowed without police intervention, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported. However, that marks a turnaround from demonstrations last September when police used tear gas against protesters. A City Council memo calls for interim police chief Cynthia Herriot-Sullivan to prohibit the use of tear gas and flashbangs, but it was not binding.
When the early crowd of about 100 gathered, it was smaller than those that gathered last summer. But activists were just as vocal, saying that they were disappointed that Prude, a Black man, would not get justice. Before long, the crowd grew to several hundred.
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“White supremacy protects white supremacists,” said organizer and City Council candidate Stanley Martin, the Democrat and Chronicle reported. “(The system) is not meant to protect us. The system did exactly what it was meant to do.
“We keep marching; we keep fighting; we keep reimaging what the future looks like,” she continued. “The future does not include the RPD, and I know that for a fact.”
Protesters marched through the streets, guarded by cars, to keep other vehicles at a distance. Police began to close certain streets and warned residents to stay away from certain areas. At one point in the night, the group stood facing officers near a police station, but they went back inside the building.
Ultimately, the demonstration went to the Rochester Public Safety building downtown. Protesters removed some barricades that had been set up, the Democrat and Chronicle said. The crowd began to dwindle as the night progressed, and they were mostly gone by 11:45, with some vowing to return. No arrests or physical confrontations were reported.
A Reluctant Announcement
Prude, 41, was visiting Rochester from Chicago on March 23 and had a mental health episode, which sent him running through the streets. Responding officers put him in handcuffs and pulled a “spit sock,” a mesh hood that prevents saliva transmission. He was then restrained on the ground, face down for more than two minutes, and stopped breathing. Responders performed CPR and he was transported to a hospital, declared brain dead. He died March 30 from complications of asphyxia.
An autopsy report ruled the death a homicide but also listed intoxication from PCP as a factor.
Bodycam video was released with the report, which triggered demonstrations from citizens who believed police mistreated Prude because of his race. Major protests, which followed those sweeping the country, followed.
On Tuesday, James announced that the grand jury found that the officers involved were not criminally responsible for Prude’s death.
“While I know that the Prude family, the Rochester community, and communities across the country will rightfully be devastated and disappointed, we have to respect this decision,” she said, while calling for reform. “The current laws on deadly force have created a system that utterly and abjectly failed Mr. Prude and so many others before him.”
James made several recommendations for the Rochester Police Department, including training to recognize the symptoms of excited delirium syndrome and responding to it as a serious medical emergency. In addition, she suggested exploring the use of spit sock alternatives, and she advised the City of Rochester to adopt a body-worn camera release policy regarding critical incidents.