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Thousands in Rochester march, rally, occupy

Protesters celebrated Daniel Prude’s 42nd birthday on Sept. 20. (Photo credit: Joe Tomlinson)

By Joe Tomlinson / Sports Editor

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Protests erupted throughout Monroe County in early September after Daniel Prude’s March 23 encounter with the Rochester Police Department was finally made public.  

The body camera footage was released on Sept. 2 by the family of Daniel Prude, who obtained it through a public records request. The video shows Prude, naked on Jefferson Ave., experiencing a mental health crisis. RPD officers arrived on the scene and surrounded Prude, handcuffed him, put a bag over his head and laid him face down in the street.  

Prude was administered CPR at the scene, but later died from complications from asphyxia on March 30 at Strong Memorial Hospital. From the time he was handcuffed until he was put in the ambulance, less than 12 minutes had passed. 

The failure to release this footage or properly investigate the cause of Prude’s death are indications of a cover up. Mayor Lovely Warren – one of the main figures implicated in the controversy – claims she saw the footage for the first time in early August.  

“Mr. Prude lost his life in our city. He lost his life because of the actions of our police officers,” Mayor Warren said Thursday, Sept. 3, in a news conference. 

Mayor Warren suspended with pay seven police officers involved in Prude’s arrest a day after the body cam footage was released. However, many consider her actions and comments as an attempt to save face, especially considering her silence in the face of increased police brutality towards peaceful protestors. 

People stand outside on Sept. 19 as a part of the occupation of Rochester city hall. (Photo credit: Joe Tomlinson)

A vital organizing force for protestors in these times is Free The People Rochester, a movement dedicated to uplifting oppressed people and fighting the system that oppresses them.  

“Mayor Warren needs to resign because she contributed to the cover up of Daniel Prude’s murder,” FTP organizer Ilhan Ali said. “Who knows how many other murders she’s been silent about.”  

FTP Rochester has been instrumental in setting up demonstrations and protests throughout the downtown area.  

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, they organized an occupation of city hall to demand justice for Prude and his family. FTP, in coordination with other organizations, provided warm meals, beverages, blankets and mattresses to occupiers and people in need.  

The following morning, RPD officers cleared the area in front of city hall in full riot gear – pushing people out of their encampments and arresting protestors for occupying the sidewalk.  

“RPD ripped people out of their tents, destroyed people’s property and bragged about how they wanted to come wake us up earlier than they did,” Ali said. “All of their name tags and badges are covered because they’re saying they fear for their lives and their families, which is kind of odd to say when they’re the ones brutalizing people.” 

The police have practiced such methods throughout September, using militant tactics to disperse peaceful protests.  

Alyssa Birkholz, a senior at Brockport and vice president of the Gender Equity Movement club, witnessed these tactics firsthand. The weekend after the Prude family released the footage, Birkholz attended a march that was met by a wall of police officers on a N. Clinton Ave. bridge. 

“I don’t even know if it was two minutes before they declared an unlawful assembly and immediately started firing pepper balls into the crowd and tear gassing us,” Birkholz said. “My friend was having an asthma attack, we couldn’t breathe and we had to get out.” 

On Sunday Sept. 20, Daniel Prude would have been 42 years old. 

A community birthday celebration was held in his honor at MLK Park. Brighton town board member Robin Wilt gave a speech at the event, contrasting the way suburbs and the inner city are policed. 

“I have been to BLM protests all over the county, from Hilton, to Fairport, to Pittsford and in my own town of Brighton,” Wilt said. “And what do you think the police response is to those protests? Do you think they gear up in riot gear? Do you think they have pepper balls, tanks, LRAD’s (Long Range Acoustic Device) and weapons of war? Do you think you see that on the streets in the suburbs? Hell no.” 

On Sunday, New York attorney general Letitia James announced a new policy to release body camera footage in police brutality cases directly to the public. In addition, Mayor Warren and RPD chief Mark Simmons were subpoenaed as part of an investigation into Prude’s murder.  

As a result, FTP Rochester ended the occupation of city hall on Monday, Sept. 21 to recuperate and plan new action items for the coming weeks. But, like thousands of Rochestarians, they will continue to push for justice and systematic change. 

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