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Thousands gather again in downtown Rochester to protest on behalf of Daniel Prude

Sep 5, 2020

Protesters gather Saturday night on the steps of City Hall.
Credit Brian Mann/NPR

Thousands gathered in Rochester for a fourth night of protests on Saturday calling for changes in local government leadership, policing and other areas on behalf of Daniel Prude. He’s the 41 year old man who died after being restrained on the pavement on Jefferson Avenue last March. The story came to light this past week with the release of police bodycam video.

The protest on Saturday night began with a rally on Jefferson Avenue, as demonstrators revved three wheelers and motorbikes, some hoisted Black Lives Matter flags or their fists in the air in the middle of the intersection of Jefferson Ave and Dr. Samuel McCree Way.

The evening began with news that NYS Attorney General Letitia James said she will empanel a grand jury to move the state investigation of Prude’s death forward.

One of the organizers of the Saturday protest, Ashley Gantt got cheers from the crowd when she mentioned that grand jury action by the Attorney General.

“She said that she would convene the grand jury now. I want you guys to know that that takes months. It takes months for officers to be charged and prosecuted. And that happened because of us. Because we can do anything together, anything is possible.”

Gantt also told the crowd to brace themselves for a long night and another confrontation with Rochester Police.

Danielle Ponder, who works at the Monroe County Public Defender’s office was one of the speakers. She made her pitch to defund the Rochester Police Department.

“Our tax dollars are funding the suburbs making sure Joe RPD man from Parma can send his kids to good schools,” Ponder said.

The protesters marched peacefully along Jefferson Avenue and up to West Main Street, and one of their first stops was at Rochester City Hall, where there were calls for Mayor Lovely Warren and other local government leaders to resign.

Earlier on Saturday evening, Mayor Lovely Warren issued a statement saying that, “I thank Attorney General James for taking this action because it is a trying time in Rochester. I ask that the community to allow the AG’s process to go forth on behalf of the Prude family.”

The protests became somewhat more chaotic near the Broad St. and Exchange Blvd. area, as police fired pepper balls and tear gas, and there was a standoff between the rows of officers in riot gear, a few with police dogs, and the protesters, some of whom had homemade shields, and umbrellas to try to ward off pepperballs.

NPR producer Liz Baker said just before midnight, that  the protests were still non-violent, and there were no fires or vandalism.

Rochester Police issued a statement late Saturday night saying that they had worked with their law enforcement partners to safely address the protests, but said that numerous verbal attempts to disperse the crowd were ignored and they said that officers were hit with rocks and fireworks.

The air was thick with tear gas smoke, according to numerous reports on social media, with officers continuing efforts to try and disperse the crowd.

By midnight, police said the bulk of the protesters had left the downtown area, but there were still 50 to 100 people in an area near State Street and City Hall. RPD says that their officers advanced to City Hall as people were breaking windows at the building. Just before 1:00 a.m., police said the majority of  "protesters and agitators" had left the area.

Early Sunday morning, police said that preliminary numbers show a total of 9 people arrested, most for misdemeanor counts of unlawful assembly; One  person faces an assault against a police officer felony charge and another felony charge had to do with criminal weapons possession. RPD says that three of its officers were treated for injuries at the hospital and released.

Also on Saturday, Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter issued a statement saying that he acknowledges "the hurt, the pain that people are experiencing," and asked that people protest to effect change, stating, "Do not allow individuals to hijack your cause, " allowing them to damage property or harm the community, so that those actions don't take away from the focus of the demonstrations.

City Council President Loretta Scott on Saturday issued a statement saying that she and her colleagues "remain committed to bringing justice to Mr. Prude and his family.” And Scott said that, "Although tensions are high, we must ensure everybody remains safe and peaceful while protesting. I condemn any violence inflicted upon protesters, bystanders, and officers alike. I am also urging that we not let these peaceful demonstrations be commandeered by violent agitators, as we must focus on drawing attention to the true issues at hand and continue forging a path to a safer, more equitable Rochester.”

This is a developing story, check back for updates.