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Daniel Prude should still be alive

Feb. 24

The Democrat & Chronicle

We entrust law enforcement officers to protect the innocent and the vulnerable.

We expect they will use their training and their judgment and their humanity to reach the best possible outcomes when called to respond to situations ranging from violent crimes to personal crises.

By those measures, Daniel Prude should still be alive.

A grand jury called by (New York) state Attorney General Letitia James decided that the Rochester police officers whose actions contributed to Prude’s death last year should not be charged with a crime.

This decision, however, cannot be the end of the story. The Democrat and Chronicle Editorial Board calls on the U.S. Justice Department to determine whether the officers involved in Prude’s death should be charged with violating his civil rights.

There is plenty of precedent for such an investigation.

Case in point: The New York Times reported a federal grand jury has been empaneled to consider whether a Minneapolis police officer should be charged for violating the late George Floyd’s civil rights last Memorial Day. The officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nine minutes while Floyd struggled to breathe.

Floyd’s killing spawned months of racial justice protests across America. His death, Prude’s and those of so many other Black men who posed no real threat to police officers are a national tragedy and embarrassment.

The racial bias involved in these deaths is inescapable.

Black lives don’t matter sufficiently to our nation’s law-enforcement agencies.

Officers don’t hesitate to use life-threatening measures against Black men who clearly pose no real threat.

White persons, even when they pose a real threat to police officers’ lives and safety as at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, are far less likely to be subjected to such measures.

Rochester police, in particular, have a sorry history of encounters with Black individuals that end poorly. The pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old girl this winter speaks to real failures in how Rochester officers engage with Black citizens.

As James said Tuesday: “The criminal justice system has frustrated efforts to hold law enforcement officers accountable for the unjustified killing of unarmed African Americans. What binds these cases is a tragic loss of life in circumstances in which the death could have been avoided.”

The attorney general proposed several common-sense measures to minimize the chances of another Daniel Prude-type incident, among them de-escalation training, a whole new approach to mental-health responses and data analysis of police “defensive measures” in order to end use of those that pose real risk to citizens.

The state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo should ensure these items are passed into law and incorporated into policy and practice before mid-year.

As protesters once again take to Rochester’s streets, it’s time for the police department to recognize how it must live up to the trust and expectations the public has in its work and to begin the difficult but necessary work of treating all Rochesterians with dignity and respect.

And it’s no time for any of us to let Prude’s tragic death fade into memory. We’re not going to stop talking about the need for police to change. Neither should you.

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