Daniel Prude should not have died.
The coroner was right, it was a homicide. Yes, he was high on PCP and had some health problems. But it was interactions with police – probably pressure on his head, neck and chest – that killed him.
It was also the disengagement and neglect of an ambulance crew that watched his decline without warning officers or even noticing that he had gone into respiratory arrest.
They didn’t even get him a blanket as he lay naked on the pavement when it was 32 degrees out.
Yes, he was out of his mind, but he complied, he didn’t fight, he didn’t kick, he was polite, he prayed to God in Jesus’s name.
And they asphyxiated him.
That is a hard truth, but it is a truth.
And it is not the only truth.
Also true, and also troubling, is that after the death of Daniel Prude, the mayor and police chief of Rochester – with an assist from the district attorney, the coroner and the attorney general – concealed his homicide. For more than five months, with a full knowledge of what had happened, Mayor Lovely Warrren did not tell the people of Rochester about this man’s death at the hands of her police department.
That is incomprehensible, and unconscionable.
There are two wrongs here. One that played out extemporaneously over minutes, and another that played out deliberately over months.
The attorney general and possibly the courts will decide what comes of the one, but the people of Rochester will have to decide what comes of the other.
They will have to decide what to think of a mayor who decried and denounced the death of George Floyd, while simultaneously concealing the very similar death of another black man in her own stewardship. What about the hypocrisy of flying a Black Lives Matter flag in front of City Hall while that very same City Hall was concealing the death of an unarmed black man at police hands?
In an era when we rightly believe in transparency, how could any mayor or police chief think that the right thing to do in the face of a homicide like this is silence and concealment? Since when is a cover up the right thing to do?
And the excuse of the chief that they couldn’t say anything because of the attorney general’s investigation is preposterous and false. In similar investigations by the attorney general, the cases have been public and publicly addressed by local officials. And even if they hadn’t been, City Hall’s excuse doesn’t explain why the mayor and chief did not report the matter before it was referred to the attorney general.
It is clear from the statements of the paramedic at the scene that there was a question of police culpability right from the very start. As she was telling them it was excited delirium, what she was doing was absolving them of guilt. She felt the need to absolve them because the situation naturally raised the question of their responsibility for Daniel Prude’s death.
If the paramedic at the scene knew that, so did the mayor when she learned about it later that day.
And yet, for more than five months, she didn’t say Daniel Prude’s name.
She didn’t champion his cause.
She didn’t comfort his family.
She didn’t inform her community.
She didn’t call for justice.
She didn’t breathe a word of it.
Neither her nor her chief nor anyone else in her administration.
She didn’t even tell the members of the City Council.
She and the chief covered it up.
And the absence of the truth is a lie. As her city and its people grappled with making their statement about black lives and the threat of violence from the police, she betrayed the cause with her silence. That left the officers of her department and the people of her city further damaged and divided.
And with no idea who to trust.
When the black mayor and the black police chief lie to the black community by concealing the homicide of a black man in a police incident, who are black people supposed to trust? When the mayor tearily talked about her own family’s experiences with police, while simultaneously concealing the pain of another family, how sincere and believable is that?
How sincere are desires by the mayor and chief to improve police and community relations when they deceive the community about an incident in which it appears the police took a naked, unarmed, compliant black man’s life?
We need justice for Daniel Prude.
We also need justice for the people of the city of Rochester.
One was killed, the others were deceived.