A crowd of somber yet outraged protesters in Rochester, upstate New York, endured bitter cold on Tuesday night to decry a grand jury’s failure to indict local police officers for the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who was in town visiting relatives, last March.
“This is not what we expected. This is not what we wanted. And until there is justice in this system, they will not get no peace from us,” said protester Jay Johnson.
After taking over the case against the officers, who put Prude in a hood and held him naked on the freezing street, and presenting “the most comprehensive case possible”, Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, said her office had “sought a different outcome than the one the grand jury handed us”.
A grand jury is seated and considers a criminal case from prosecutors behind closed doors, before announcing whether it believes charges should be filed.
“The criminal justice system has frustrated efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable for the unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans, and what binds these cases is a tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could have been avoided,” James said in an emotional news conference on Tuesday.
On Tuesday evening, protesters walked through traffic and along the highway in Rochester, as one person yelled: “Tell the cops, ‘stop killing Black people,’” according to video from a local photojournalist.
“White supremacy protects white supremacists,” said organizer Stanley Martin. “[The system] is not meant to protect us. The system did exactly what it was meant to do.”
Prude, who was from Chicago but was visiting his brother in Rochester last spring, was experiencing a mental health episode when police officers handcuffed him, and, amid the spreading coronavirus pandemic, thrust a hood over his head meant to protect them from a person spitting, and held his body to the ground.
Soon, he lost consciousness and had to be resuscitated, but never regained consciousness. He was taken off life support a week later.
The medical examiner ruled that his death was a homicide due to “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint”. “Excited delirium” and phencyclidine (PCP) intoxication – a drug his friends say he used more after his close nephew’s death in 2018 – also contributed.
An expert in restraint-related death ultimately concluded that Prude died from cardiac arrest, according to a report released by James’s office. Another expert in police procedures felt that some behavior by the officers involved was “contrary to acceptable police practice”, though most of their actions were “reasonable” under the circumstances.
Seven members of the Rochester police department remain on leave amid an internal investigation.
Prude’s death was among a series of high-profile, lethal instances of police aggression against black people in 2020, including the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota. Outrage over the US’s history of race-based policing sparked widespread protests last summer in a major revival for the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement.
“The system too often allows officers to use deadly force unnecessarily and without consequence,” James said. “And that is a system that at its core is broken.”