WEOS Finger Lakes Public Radio

Neighbor on Daniel Prude’s death: 'It’s not fair. It says that you’re less than.'

Sep 4, 2020
Originally published on September 3, 2020 5:23 pm

Melvin Chapman said he’s lived near the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Dr. Samuel McCree Way for about 10 years. When police arrested Daniel Prude in March, he said it was the talk of the neighborhood.

“As soon as it happened, everybody was talking about it. 'What happened? What happened to him? How’d this happen?' ” said Chapman. “No answers. Until yesterday.”

On Wednesday, attorneys for Prude announced that he died after an incident with police. 

Prude’s family called 911 because of concerns over his mental health. When police arrived, Prude was naked and in the middle of Jefferson Avenue. The temperature was about 30 degrees. Police said he was erratic and vomiting, so they put a sack, known as a spit sock, over his head and restrained him. Shortly after, Prude suffocated, which led to brain damage, and he died in the hospital a week later. The medical examiner’s report said he had a drug known as PCP in his system.

The details surrounding Prude’s arrest and death weren’t publicly released until Wednesday, about five months after the incident happened. Chapman said the public should have known about Prude’s death sooner. He said this incident is reflective of the reality of police community relations in Rochester. 

“It’s part of a larger mosaic of what’s going on in this country,” said Chapman. “You have to believe you just wanna be treated like everyone else. It’s not fair. It says that you’re less than. And it's our responsibility to bring these matters to the forefront. So this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore.”

Robert Vinson Jr. lives a few blocks from where Prude was arrested. Vinson doesn't recall the incident, but he’s angry it took this long to become public. He said police officers don’t know his neighborhood and he has little hope for change.

“Nothing is gonna happen because it's not a white person being shot by black officers, but since it's a black man, who cares?” said Vinson. “I bet you any officer that drives in the city of Rochester don’t know nobody on their beat. No child, no ‘ma’am’, no ‘miss,’ no one.”

The incident between police and Daniel Prude happened in front of Arthur Dilbert’s church, the Abundant Life Faith Center. He wishes Prude got to talk to a mental health professional, or a clergy member, instead of a police officer. 

“In Rochester, in March, it's cold,” said Dilbert. “And anyone who is not dressed, anyone who does not have any clothes on, you know that something more is going on.” 

He says it reminds him of conversations he’s had with his son and perishoners about how to interact with police.

“I tell him the same thing that many people told me when I was young,” said Dilbert. “Keep your hands visible where you could see them. Give them no reason to doubt what you’re doing. But I would also say the same thing to any young man. Give them no excuses to get violent or doubt anything that you’re doing.”

Dilbert said police have made efforts to connect with his church and the wider community in recent years but it's clear more work needs to be done.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order to have the state Attorney General’s Office investigate these types of incidents. City Council is asking that the officers be placed on administrative leave; Mayor Lovely Warren said they have been suspended with pay..

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