News of the death of Daniel Prude following his arrest by Rochester police moved upwards of 100 demonstrators to gather Wednesday at the Jefferson Avenue intersection where Prude was restrained by officers.
The demonstrators began their protest outside the Rochester Police Department headquarters on Exchange Boulevard early in the afternoon, shortly after relatives of Prude and a lawyer representing them released the details of his death during a news conference at City Hall.
Police told civilians to leave the Public Safety Building as they set up barricades outside and officers carrying PepperBall guns positioned themselves within the perimeter. A growing group of protesters stood on the opposite side of Exchange Boulevard and shouted chants and condemnation at police.
At one point, an officer crossed the street and picked up a protester's backpack, shouted that it was "abandoned property," carried it across the street, and tossed it over the barricade. Protesters then moved up to the barrier, periodically kicking and rocking the gates.
Police responded with a volley of PepperBalls and pepper spray, firing at the crowd until it receded. Officers also came through the barricade and grabbed one protester off the street, carrying the man back into the Public Safety Building.
Amidst the chaos, organizer Ashley Gantt, who was part of a group of activists arrested earlier in the day at the Public Safety building, was released from custody. She was met with cheers as she rejoined the crowd.
People like to "make a narrative" that Rochester doesn't have the problems with policing that other communities do, but "we, as Black and brown people in the community, we know that it is us," Gantt said.
"We want the larger community to know this is not something that happens in other cities, in other states, it happens right here in Rochester," she added.
City Council member Mary Lupien echoed Gantt's sentiment.
"The police chief, our mayor, and the president of the police union Mike Mazzeo knew this had happened when they made the statements that we are not Minneapolis, our city doesn't have these problems," Lupien said. "They knew, and they need to be held responsible."
The protesters grew in number throughout the afternoon and by evening they had migrated to Jefferson Avenue and Dr. Samuel McCree Way, where officers encountered a naked and distressed Prude on March 23.
Police reports and body camera footage of the incident show that three officers restrained a handcuffed Prude in the roadway by holding down his feet and head and applying pressure to his back with a knee.
As police pinned Prude down on that March day, a light but steady snow fell. On Wednesday evening, rain poured down on Jefferson Avenue, inspiring a new protest chant: "He died in the snow, we can stand in the rain."
While officers restrained him, Prude fell unconscious and stopped breathing. He died a week later in Strong Memorial Hospital, from which he had been released after a mental health evaluation only hours before his arrest.
The Monroe County Medical Examiner determined Prude died of “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint due to excited delerium due to acute phencyclidine intoxication,” an indication that Prude might have been high on PCP.
By 8 p.m., a DJ had set up on Jefferson, blaring NWA and James Brown's "The Big Payback." Organizers said the demonstration would last all night or as long as it takes for officials to meet their demands. Those demands include the firing of all officers involved in Prude's death and a ban on police response to mental health calls, among others.
"This is just day one," said Adrian Hale, a manager who deals with strategic initiatives for the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. "We're not stopping."
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.