On the night of March 23rd 2020, the Rochester Police Department brutally murdered Daniel Prude. Mark Vaughn, Frank Santiago, and Troy Talladay killed him while several more cops stood by, watching and laughing. In the city of Frederick Douglass, they lynched a black man naked in the snow for the crime of experiencing a mental health crisis.
City Hall and the Rochester Police Department then maintained a months-long cover-up. They got caught when Daniel Prude's family filed legal documents accessible to the public. Then we saw the video, erasing all doubts. If not for the bravery of Prude's family, we might never have known about his murder.
Mayor Lovely Warren suspended the cops with pay, instead of firing them. She also let the RPD use rubber bullets and chemical weapons against protesters demanding justice.
This week, almost a year after Daniel Prude’s death, Attorney General Letitia James announced that her office failed to make their case to the grand jury. No charges. James repeatedly used the racist pseudo-scientific dog-whistle term “excited delirium,” and ultimately passed the buck to the state Legislature.
The Attorney General’s own report shows that her office’s chosen medical expert, Dr. Gary Vilke, “opined [to the grand jury] that Mr. Prude’s ingestion of [drugs] precipitated... 'Excited Delirium.' He further concluded that it was this... that ultimately caused Mr. Prude’s death." This was a direct refutation of our County medical examiner’s finding that the cause of Daniel Prude’s death was “homicide by asphyxiation.” We look forward to reading the grand jury transcript.
So, all too predictably, Daniel Prude's murderers (Mark Vaughn, Frank Santiago, and Troy Talladay) remain at-large, unpunished, and still on the public payroll. Attorney General James told us we must respect the grand jury's decision. We do not. We remember what we saw in that video. We believe our eyes. Those men murdered Daniel Prude.
Mayor Warren and RPD Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan still have the power to fire these killer cops, at any time. If they really believe that Black Lives Matter, we demand they do so at once.
The Rochester Police Department, City Hall, and the Attorney General have all made sure there won't be justice for Daniel Prude. They will each continue to protect and serve institutional white supremacy, for as long as we let them. In the words of Frederick Douglass: “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to, and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.” We cannot submit to this, nor can we be quiet.
The human rights of black people in the United States have been constantly violated since arriving here in chains. And since the days of the first slave-catchers, police have always been a bulwark of racist violence. All across this country, cops feed the prison industry cheap labor by terrorizing black communities. Rochester police are no exception.
We can no longer risk sending police to deal with mental health crises instead of qualified care professionals. We need our Police Accountability Board with its policy-making and disciplinary powers fully intact. We have to defund the RPD, and reallocate its immense resources to help our city's people instead of terrorizing them. We need Daniel’s Law, and a host of other legislative reforms. Most of all we need leaders with the political courage to deliver justice for Daniel Prude.
Metro Justice was founded 55 years ago to fight against racial injustice. One thing we can learn from that long history (in which too little has changed) is that these are not an endless series of “isolated incidents,” but rather the result of living in an institutionally racist state. Winning a racially just society is ultimately not just a question of some necessary reforms, but of liberating our entire social life from the forces of white supremacy.
- Elected Council of Metro Justice