A new wave of outrage is sweeping Rochester, N.Y. following the release of internal government documents related to the police murder of Daniel Prude, a 41 year-old Black man who had traveled to the city to visit his brother. The documents detail how city authorities conspired to cover up the facts surrounding his death.
Prude was murdered by Rochester Police Department officers in March, but his death and a video of the night he was detained by police was only made public earlier this month. The video shows gut wrenching images of Prude, who was not only unarmed but in fact naked at the time of his arrest, strangled with a bag over his head in the middle of the street. He died a week later due to “complications of asphyxia” according to the county coroner.
The documents reveal the extent to which officials coordinated their efforts to prevent the release of the body camera footage from that night. Jodi Dean, an organizer with the Geneva Women’s Assembly who has been involved in protests demanding justice for Daniel Prude, told Liberation News that “The violent, racist, and corrupt Rochester Police Department has literally gotten away with murder for decades. Now there is absolutely undeniable proof.”
In one email Rochester Deputy Police Chief Mark Simmons expresses concern to his boss, Police Chief La’Ron Singletary, that the footage must be suppressed so that people would not associate Prude’s death “with any recent killings of unarmed Black men by law enforcement nationally.” Singletary replied, “I totally agree.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has presented herself as sympathetic to the demands of those protesting for justice, but the documents suggest another story. Singletary said in a private email in April that the mayor’s office “has been in the loop” from the very beginning.
Among the documents that were released is the original copy of the police report on the incident. The cop who filled out the report originally described Prude as an “individual”, but another officer wrote in red ink on the printed version “make him a suspect”. This indicates an effort early on to impugn Prude’s character, a common tactic by police departments and their allies.
Protesters determined to win justice
Demonstrations have been taking place on a daily basis since Prude’s killing was made public, and the case has become nationally known. Dean explained, “The organizers — Free the People Rochester — have deep support in the community. They’ve been working together for at least a decade. They had also been active all summer, since the George Floyd murder, and are extraordinarily committed and disciplined.” She added that protests have taken a variety of forms, “from street parties, to different march routes, to street painting, to the most recent occupation of the front of City Hall.”
The city’s establishment is on the defensive, and the co-conspirators in the coverup of Prude’s murder are turning on each other. On September 14, Mayor Warren fired Police Chief Singletary, hypocritically proclaiming “The culture of policing in Rochester must change.” Two other top city officials were suspended without pay for a month at the same time.
But in addition to these concessions, Rochester authorities are unleashing violent repression on the movement against racist police brutality. This has had a radicalizing effect on people, as Dean points out, “When 200 cops with dogs, tanks, LRADs, pepper balls, and tear gas confront peaceful protesters demanding justice for the police murder of an unarmed Black man, the injustice in the system becomes plain as day.”