The last week or so in Rochester has been marked by protests, local outrage, and even a couple of tweets from Donald Trump. But while the cries for justice for Daniel Prude will no doubt continue, members of the community came together last night to celebrate the life that was cut short six months ago and kept under wraps.
The concept of systemic racism is surely nothing new to many Rochesterians — especially during the pandemic. Black healthcare workers are already almost twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19 as their white colleagues and the disparities in our nation’s healthcare system are as clear as day. Of course, Black people are more than three times more likely to be killed during interactions with law enforcement officials as white people are. And while Rochesterians had already been protesting alongside the rest of the nation after the deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and countless others, the community had virtually no idea that another Black person died while in police custody here in the Flower City even before those other tragic deaths made news headlines.
Thanks to police video released by the grieving family of Daniel Prude and Free the People ROC, the community and the nation had a chance to see first-hand the kind of treatment Prude received a week before his death. Videos have become one of the most popular ways to consume content, with YouTube’s visitor rates exceeding 2 billion every month. The video was disturbing yet compelling, managing to call the conduct of the officers into question and sounding the alarm on an international scale. During what is being referred to as a mental health episode, an unclothed Prude was held down in the middle of the street with his head covered in a spit hood. Officers could be heard mocking Prude; during the encounter, Prude lost consciousness and was placed on life support upon his admittance to the hospital. A week later, Prude was gone — and now, his family and the community are demanding answers.
As a result of Prude’s death, protests have been staged each night downtown. These protests have been mostly peaceful, with a few exceptions. By and large, according to news media and protestors on the ground, law enforcement officers have been the ones escalating these incidents into violence. While 3.6 million open wounds are reported in the U.S. every year, civilians — including some city legislators — have experienced severe injuries due to the pepper balls and other warfare used on protestors. There was even an incident caught on video that involved the driver of a speeding car hitting protestors and spraying them with pepper spray.
Still, the community isn’t giving up. Free the People ROC established a list of demands from the start, most of which have not yet been met. Although seven officers were suspended pending investigation, those officers are entitled to pay during their suspension. And while Police Chief La’Ron Singletary and the entire RPD command staff chose to retire in the past week, there’s no indication that Mayor Lovely Warren will be giving up her post. As for the officers directly involved in the incident that led to Daniel Prude’s homicide, as was ruled by the official autopsy, the State Attorney General’s investigation will determine whether any charges will be filed.
In the midst of so much rightful anger and fear, however, the community has managed to come together to find joy. In a celebration of life held last night in Rochester, Prude’s family members and others from the area gathered to sing, dance, and demand justice. With live music from Danielle Ponder and speeches from family members and community organizers, hundreds found their way to Jefferson Avenue in the city to enjoy each other’s company, celebrate the life of Daniel Prude, and provide the strength needed to continue the long fight ahead.
These times may be dark and uncertain. But it’s clear that Rochester has been energized to keep up the momentum. With any luck, a change is going to come.