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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Din of Anger Shouts Down Reconciliation

Updated: Sep 7, 2020

Festa do Avante!, the annual Portuguese Communist Party festival, was limited to 16,563 attendees because of the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo by Carlos Pimentel/Globe Imagens)


Let everything happen to you

Beauty and terror

Just keep going

No feeling is final

Rainer Maria Rilke

These lines ended last year’s comedic film, JoJo Rabbit, featuring a boy coming of age in Nazi Germany whose imaginary friend takes the form of Adolph Hitler. Our times are, arguably, as intense. Certainly, fear and anger are palpable, especially in Europe and the United States.

Trust of authority is a currency in small supply. As human beings, everyone deserves some mercy. Without compassion, we are pointing fingers, casting blame and calling sides. Without it, we are getting nowhere to living peacefully and respectfully of each other.

For six months, the new coronavirus has turned upside down the lives of everyone. Many people have mourned their friends and relatives without the solace of spending the last moments with them. Some have lost their jobs and homes. Others have worried over the government’s power and their loss of civil liberties, partly because of similar frightening experiences during the Second World War.

For four months, the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has sparked demands for racial justice in the United States and other countries. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement have marched in U.S. cities of all sizes and in London, Berlin, Paris and Lisbon, among other places.

Times have been rough, by any measure, and they are not over yet.

There has been another videotaped police killing of a black man in the United States:

On September 3, seven Rochester, New York police officers were suspended in the asphyxiation of Daniel Prude as he was being detained in March six months ago. On the previous day, the victim’s family released police videos of the 11-minute interaction, which they had just obtained through an open records request, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

There have been more demonstrations:

On September 5, demonstrators demanded justice near the Kentucky Derby in Louisville for the police killing of Breonna Taylor in her home in March, according to Aljazeera. Meanwhile, local media reported that members of a far-right militia group, many carrying guns, had gathered in a Louisville park that morning and marched downtown. On September 4, hundreds protested the infringement of civil rights in the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne in the state of Victoria, which has been hard hit by the virus. Thirty-eight thousand in Berlin protested COVID-19 rules infringing on their civil rights on August 28, according to BBC News. On the same day in Washington, D.C., 50,000 took part in the Commitment March: Get Your Knee Off Our Necks.

There have been other large gatherings:

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa urged many thousands to attend the 90th Lisbon Book Fair, August 27 to September 13, in a manner that respects sanitary rules, according to O Journal Economico. He said that, during the pandemic, culture, without which there can be no social progress, suffered more than tourism or media during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a limit of 3,300 attendees at a time.

Festa do Avante!, the 44th annual Portuguese Communist Party festival, in Seixal, Portugal, was approved by the General Directorate of Health, DGS, for a total of no more than 16,563 people at the same time during the three-day event that ends on September 6. Originally, the PCP had planned to limit the number of attendees to 33,000, or one-third of the ground’s capacity. Again, sanitary rules such as masks and social distancing were mandated for the affair.

It seems that more and more people have lost their fear of the new coronavirus, or they believe that their cause is worth the risk of congregating in crowds, sanitary rules, notwithstanding.

In Rochester, on the night of September 3, about 100 people protested the suffocating death of Daniel Prude, according to The New York Times. At about 9:45 p.m., people were sitting, singing, chanting and eating pizza.

At about 10:30 p.m., the dozen officers who had been monitoring the demonstrators from behind a barricade were joined by 20 reinforcements in riot gear.

“The officers suddenly surged toward the barricade and began firing an irritant into the crowd,” said The New York Times. “It was unclear what led them to do so. The protesters pushed into the barricade toward the police, prompting the officers to fire the irritant again, as protesters yelled, ‘Why? Why?’ The back and forth continued for 45 minutes or so, with the police repeatedly firing irritant.”

On the fourth night of protests on September 5, Rochester police arrested nine people, including two on felony charges, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The night ended with pepper balls, tear gas and fireworks. Three officers were treated at hospitals for injuries sustained as a result of projectiles and incendiary devices which were launched at them,” said Lieutenant Greg Bello in a news release.

What led up to the death of Prude by Rochester police?

Prude, 41, a Chicago resident, was having a psychotic episode, according to The New York Times. Prude’s family called 911, the police emergency number, twice. During the first call, they told police that they suspected that he was under the influence of the powerful hallucinogen, phencyclidine, or PCP. They said that he might have taken it unknowingly.

PCP was first tested on humans in 1957. In 1967, it went on the commercial market as an animal anesthetic, and its formula found its way into the hands of illegal manufacturers. It has many properties: a stimulant, like speed; a depressant, like alcohol; an amnestic, causing memory loss; an analgesic (painkiller), and an anesthetic (knockout drug). PCP is not only a hallucinogen but also psychomimetic, meaning, in everyday terms, “it makes people crazy, delusionary,” according to Dr. Kate Yago, who quit her job at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center because of the violence of users.

In short, PCP is bad news. There is no way of knowing whether someone under the influence will react violently or docilely. Its unpredictability makes it a worry for law enforcement officers, paramedics and social service agencies. In Los Angeles County in the mid-1980s, when PCP was rampant in brown and black communities, many police officers had been hospitalized after dealing with violent PCP users or after inhaling the fumes from liquid PCP, or, accidentally, touching it. Officers dispatched to someone under the influence of PCP considered it a high-risk call and had backup.

Prude had arrived the previous day to visit his brother’s family. He rode Amtrak to Buffalo, 80 miles from Rochester, where he was kicked off the train, his brother, Joe, later told police, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. After being driven to Rochester, he began to act erratically, accusing his brother of trying to kill him and, seemingly, trying to take his own life. He jumped head-first down 21 basement steps when Joe Prude said he, first, called police for help, according to The New York Times. Prude was taken to a hospital for a mental health evaluation and released an hour later.

After some hours of stable behavior, at 3 in the morning, Prude, wearing only a tank top, and long johns, ran out the back door of Joe Prude’s home when his brother was out of the room, prompting another call for help to 911. His brother feared that Prude would run toward a train and hurt himself.

Prude was compliant when he was handcuffed by police after he ran in the street naked in the middle of a night snowfall, said the Democrat and Chronicle. Prude told police that he had the coronavirus. He began spitting on the ground, although not aiming at the officers. The police pulled down over his head a white “spit hood” designed to protect police from a suspect’s bodily fluids. Except for the hood, Prude remained naked in temperatures just above freezing.

When he tried to get up, one officer used both hands to force Prude face down on the ground with the weight of his body for two minutes and 15 seconds. Two others held down the man’s torso and legs. Then, before letting up, the first officer asked, “You good now?” to the prone man, who did not respond. The officer resumed pushing his head with one hand for 45 more seconds, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.

An ambulance arrived, and there were three minutes of chatting among the emergency medical technicians and the police officers. There was no mention that Prude had stopped talking and moving, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. When one of the emergency medical technicians asked the police to roll Prude over, he recognized that Prude was not breathing and began administering CPR and asking for help from his colleague. Officers could not immediately find a key to remove the handcuffs, so Prude’s hands remained secured behind his back for two minutes while the paramedics continued to try to resuscitate him.

In the ambulance ride to a hospital, Prude’s heartbeat returned, but his brain had been deprived of oxygen too long. Prude was declared brain dead. One week later, he died after being taken off life support.

Prude lived in Chicago with his sister. He has five adult children. One of his three daughters, Tashyra Prude, said she felt “instant rage” when she saw the video.

“The person that everybody sees in the video is totally different from the person that I knew,” she said.

In the United States, there is so much anger and fear that they are becoming a cacophony, above which no one can hear the other. One thing is certain:

Death is silent.

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