Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Police officers deployed rubber bullets and pepper spray September 3, 2020 in Rochester, New York as protestors demanded answers in the asphyxiation death of Daniel Prude. (Photo: Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Rochester Police Accused of 'Unnecessarily Aggressive Behavior' During Protest Over Killing of Daniel Prude

"This was one of the more violent things I've seen in my years in journalism," said one reporter.

Lisa Newcomb

Police in Rochester, New York fired pepper bullets and pushed back demonstrators with riot shields Thursday night amid protests demanding justice for Daniel Prude, a Black man killed by asphyxiation when officers put a "spit hood" over his head in March of this year after responding to a call that he was having a mental health emergency.

"This was one of the more violent things I've seen in my years in journalism," Zach D. Roberts, a photojournalist who covered the protests live, tweeted late Thursday.

Protesters took to the streets in the city following the release Wednesday of video footage showing police putting the spit hood over Prude's head and pinning his naked body to the ground when they responded to the call earlier this year.

Seven police officers involved in the incident were suspended with pay Thursday, following outrage and news coverage of the footage. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced the officers' suspension during a news conference, saying she took the action "against the advice of counsel," noting the police union could respond by suing the city. Warren added that Prude had been failed "by our police department, our mental healthcare system, our society... and by me."

Hundreds of people gathered outside the city's Public Safety Building on Thursday night to challenge the police and demand justice for Prude. According to the New York Times:

People were sitting, singing, chanting, and eating pizza.

At around 10:30 p.m., the dozen or so police officers who had been monitoring the demonstrators from behind a barricade were joined by around 20 reinforcements in riot gear.

The officers suddenly surged toward the barricade and began firing an irritant into the crowd. It was unclear what led them to do so.

Coverage of the protests and police response lit up social media, with journalists and citizens shocked at the use of police force, including pepper-spraying a broadcast reporter.

"It's clear that City Council's request for a respectful, de-escalated interaction with protesters went unheeded," City Council member Mitch Gruber wrote in a text message to the local Democrat and Chronicle. "[Rochester Police Department] initiated unnecessarily aggressive behavior toward peaceful protesters." According to the newspaper's coverage of events:

The crowd on Thursday chanted "Black Lives Matter" and "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now." Most wore face masks, while carrying signs and listening to the beating of a drum in front of the barricaded headquarters of the Rochester Police Department.

Officers began firing pepper balls shortly before 10:30 pm. An hour later, officers emerged in line formation from the building, shooting dozens of pepper balls, standing where the barricade once stood, as crowds retreated.

Amnesty International earlier on Thursday condemned the use of the "spit hood" by police and joined calls for an investigation into events leading up to Prude's death.

"Spit hoods can cause extreme distress and restricted breathing," Justin Mazzola, the deputy director of research at Amnesty International USA, said in a statement. "They are especially dangerous when someone is already in crisis as Daniel Prude appeared to be. This is just one of a number of cases of people being suffocated by police and illustrates the need for systemic police reform."

Mazzola continued: "There must be a thorough investigation into Daniel Prude's death, as part of a wide-ranging reform of policing practices. Daniel Prude and his family have a right to justice."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Covid-19 Vaccine Makers Blasted for 'Unconscionable Profits,' Monopolies, and Low Taxes

"Big Pharma's business model—receive billions in public investments, charge exorbitant prices for lifesaving medicines, pay little tax—is gold dust for wealthy investors and corporate executives but devastating for global public health."

Common Dreams staff ·


UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Global Halt to Sales of Dangerous AI Technologies

"The power of AI to serve people is undeniable, but so is AI's ability to feed human rights violations at an enormous scale with virtually no visibility."

Brett Wilkins ·


ICC Approves Probe Into 'Drug War' Atrocities Carried Out by Duterte Regime

"Duterte along with his co-accused henchmen of the war on drugs will be facing justice."

Andrea Germanos ·


Global Indigenous Coalition Echoes Call to Postpone UN Climate Talks

"No equitable or just climate solutions can emerge from such an unjust process."

Brett Wilkins ·


House Dems Unveil Bill to Stop Wall Street From Destroying the Planet

"The Federal Reserve's role is not to surrender our planet to corporate polluters and shepherd our financial system to its destruction," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib, among the Democrats urging the Fed to end fossil fuel financing.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo