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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Police Cover-Ups Hurt Us All

Updated: May 3, 2021

Daniel Prude, dead at 41 in Rochester


In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a police officer was found guilty last week of murdering George Floyd, a Black man.

In Rochester, New York, three police officers were found not guilty, 15 to 5, of criminally negligent homicide charges in the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man, by a secret grand jury, the proceedings of which were released only days before the Minnesota judgment.

“The criminal justice system has frustrated efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable for the unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James when she requested the release of the secret proceedings in February.

What was the starkest difference between the two trials?

Aside from the secrecy of the Rochester trial, in Minnesota, fellow officers, including the police chief, testified against Derek Chauvin. They said that Chauvin used unjustified force.

In Rochester, the colleagues of seven officers, who are on leave pending an internal investigation, upheld the blue wall of silence.

A video of Prude’s death had been released to his family in September 2020, six months after the fatal incident. At that time, the Rochester City Council authorized subpoena power to a New York City law firm leading the independent investigation into the city’s handling of the case, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Later, the city released 325 pages of internal emails, police reports and other documents that showed a concerted effort by police and city officials to delay the release of incriminating body camera footage, according to CNN.

In one released police incident report, among many edits, some prosaic, Prude’s name is written in the space labeled “Victim”. Prude’s name is circled in red, next to a large, handwritten note: “Make him a suspect,” reported CNN.

In March 2020, Prude’s brother, who worried that his visiting sibling might hurt himself, called the police twice within 24 hours, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. The first time, the Chicago resident was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital, where he left in an hour. The second time, it was predawn. Officers found him wandering naked on the streets of Rochester in a snowfall. They handcuffed him from behind, placed a “spit hood” over his head, and one officer used both hands to force Prude’s face down with the weight of his body for two minutes and 15 seconds. Two other officers held down Prude’s torso and legs.

Then, the first officer asked, “You good now?” to the prone man, who did not respond. The officer resumed pushing Prude’s head with one hand for 45 more seconds, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.

An ambulance arrived followed by three minutes of chatting among the emergency medical technicians and the seven police officers. Police did not mention that Prude had stopped talking and moving, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.

In the trial before the grand jury, not one officer testified that three minutes of pressure on the back of a handcuffed and hooded man lying prone on the ground was unjustified.

Not one officer testified that the three minutes that the police made small talk with the paramedics, instead of alerting them to the unconscious man, was unjustified.

Not one officer testified that leaving uncovered the naked body of Prude was unjustified.

Loyalty should not be confused with blind loyalty.

Not snitching on our colleague’s wrongdoing does not absolve us. Turning our backs to witnessed injustice does not excuse us. “Just obeying orders” does not vindicate us.

Blind loyalty creates a culture in which, eventually, what seemed barbaric becomes acceptable. What seemed barbaric becomes the norm.

In January, Rochester police pepper-sprayed a 9-year-old girl, according to NBC News. She was Black.

“Officer, please don’t do this to me,” the child said as she waited handcuffed in the back seat of a police car, according to police body camera video released in February.

“You did it to yourself, hon,” a female officer in the front seat said.

The police department had said, previously, that officers were responding to a report of “family trouble”.

In the nearly 90-minute video, the girl can be heard sobbing, whimpering and repeatedly saying, “I want my dad”. She also told police that her handcuffs were too tight and that her eyes were burning. Multiple times, she asked when an ambulance would come to clean the pepper spray from her eyes, and she begged to have the handcuffs removed. An officer told her that an ambulance was on its way.

“If you stick your head towards the window, the cold air is going to feel nice,” an officer said.

“It’s burning too bad,” said the girl.

“It’s supposed to burn. It’s called pepper spray,” said an officer.

The Democrat and Chronicle estimated that an ambulance arrived in 15 minutes. The newspaper said that her handcuffs were removed 23 minutes after that.

A 9-year-old child.


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