Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Published 9:10 AM EDT Sep 8, 2020
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Naked except for “spit hoods” in a reference to the killing of Daniel Prude, several protesters sat outside Rochester’s police headquarters Monday morning to push for police accountability.
Six naked or nearly naked protesters — some with Black Lives Matter written across their backs — sat silently on the street facing Rochester’s Public Safety Building on a rainy, chilly Monday morning.
They wore “spit hoods,” the mesh fabric bag which Rochester police used on Daniel Prude on March 23. Prude died of asphyxiation as police restrained him, according to the county medical examiner.
After sitting unclothed in the rain, the wet protesters were wrapped in blankets and led from the protest, symbolizing the care that many found lacking in video of the Rochester Police Department’s treatment of Prude.
Paul Hypolite of Brooklyn was among the six who demonstrated in the rain. He lived in Rochester for five years and has friends and family in the area. “I love the people of this city,” he said.
He said he felt enraged as he sat in the rain. “It doesn’t seem possible that humans could treat each other that way,” he said, referring to the body worn camera video of Prude. “I don’t understand how someone can see another human in that position and not feel compassion and want do whatever they can to help them.”
The group that organized the protest, which they simply labeled as community members, said they were in solidarity with the Rochester group Free the People Roc. The protesters distributed a list of demands for New York state, including police not responding to mental health calls, changes in policies for police misconduct and a ban on the use of chemical weapons against peaceful protesters.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump tweeted that Rochester was among cities that had “bad nights,” while Mayor Lovely Warren commended activist leaders, police and community elders on a night of calm protest Sunday.
The president’s tweet does not accurately reflect the course of events in the city Sunday night which saw no arrests or injuries, despite a group of nearly 1,000 people marching to the Public Safety Building. An RPD statement thanked a group of elders for “keeping the protest safe.”
A statement issued by Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren an hour after Trump’s social media asked that “… all involved ignore the commentary from the President. It is clear his only desire is to bait people to act with hate and violence that he believes will benefit politically. We will not give him what he wants. We will continue to act with grace and do the work necessary to improve Rochester and out entire community.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office responded shortly after the president’s tweet, accusing Trump of delighting in conflict and distorting the narrative of the protests.
“Sadly for this President, a peaceful protest is a ‘bad night’ — he thrives on anarchy and stokes the flames of division,” read one of two tweets from Melissa DeRosa, secretary to Gov. Cuomo.
DeRosa added: “We know you thrive on anarchy and seek to fan the flames of hate, but Sunday night’s protest in Rochester was described as peaceful by both demonstrators and RPD — Knock it off and get to work, Mr President.”
Monday night, protesters with the Demand Justice for Daniel Prude rally gathered again in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in downtown Rochester.
Organized by Free the People Roc, organizers said they will continue to gather and march until their list of demands is met. Organizers said they are prepared to assemble every night, if that is what it takes.
Among its demands, the group is calling for the resignation of Warren and Police Chief La’Ron Singletary.
In a Facebook post, the group also demanded, “The officers involved in Prude’s killing must be fired and prosecuted. And the Rochester Police Department must be stopped from responding to mental health calls and defunded.”
The gathering at MLK Park was short-lived as rally-goers left the park and began marching. One smaller group headed toward the Public Safety Building which is the headquarters for both the Rochester police and fire departments.
The demonstrators ended up at Rochester City Hall which is where they gathered two nights before. From the steps of City Hall, organizers reiterated their demands.
“We are making progress,” Ashley Gantt, one of the organizers and founders of Free the People Roc, said. She noted state Attorney General Letitia James announced Saturday she would call a grand jury to investigate Prude’s death.
“We need bold, honest, integral leadership,” she continued as she demanded the resignation of Warren and Singletary. She said the group has even crafted letters of resignation for the two community leaders.
The letter was then read to joyous applause.
Unlike previous nights where the street in front of the police headquart was blocked off by barricades and throngs of law enforcement officers, protesters were able to reach the front of the Public Safety Building unencumbered.
The building has become the central gathering point for local protest since the death of George Floyd in May.
Joe Prude, brother of Daniel Prude, took to the microphone and echoed the demands of other protesters. He called for the resignation of city officials and reflected on the loss of his brother.
“They didn’t want that tape to come out of my brother being assassinated by some cold-blooded killers,” Prude said.
Prude continued, “If I would’ve done that to the police, what the hell would’ve happened to me? I wouldn’t be here tonight. Let’s love each other and continue to fight the good fight.”
After police declared the Justice for Daniel Prude rally to be an unlawful gathering around 10:20 p.m., protesters stood their ground. Chants continued. Some protesters kneeled in front of police. Others approached police with their hands raised.
For the second consecutive night, the police didn’t use pepper balls, tear gas, flash bangs or other implements against protesters.
Rally-goers began to disperse en masse early Tuesday after staring down police officers for nearly three hours.
Amid chants of “We’ll be back,” protesters departed the scene and vowed to return the next night to the Public Safety Building. Organizers have said they’ll continue to assemble until their list of demands are met.
Contributing: The Associated Press; N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY