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Rochester Officers Suspended Over Death Of Daniel Prude

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Seven police officers in Rochester, N.Y., are suspended with pay today. Back in March, these officers arrested Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man with a history of mental illness. They put a hood over Prude's head. He later died of suffocation. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Protests in Rochester have now taken place for two nights after the family of Daniel Prude released a video of the incident, which they had obtained through a public records request.

NPR's Liz Baker is in Rochester and joins us now. Good morning, Liz.

LIZ BAKER, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: You were at the protest last night. What can you tell us?

BAKER: Well, I was there earlier in the evening and joined a crowd of a couple hundred people. We marched from the site where Daniel Prude encountered the police to the Public Safety Building where police are headquartered. And when I left, it was still peaceful. But a little later, the crowd started pushing against a police barricade. And there are multiple eyewitness videos showing police responding with tear gas, pepper spray and what sounds like pepper balls or rubber bullets.

MARTIN: So you were able to talk with protesters before those clashes with police began. What did they tell you?

BAKER: Well, a few people said that the suspension was a step in the right direction but they wanted further action. And a lot more people said that this was too little, too late so they would keep protesting. All the Black protesters I spoke with said their pain goes back much, much further than this incident with Daniel Prude. Shamika Lott (ph) grew up on the block where Daniel Prude was asphyxiated. And she told me the video affected her so much, she had a panic attack at work when she saw it.

SHAMIKA LOTT: I am at rage right now. I am raged (ph) right now. After seeing that video, I am at rage. I am a mother of a Black son who is 21, who I am scared for every day because of the people that's supposed to serve and protect him is killing him because he's Black.

MARTIN: I mean, she's giving voice there to what so many people feel in this moment. And the video is horrific. There's obviously just, like, incredible rage throughout the town in Rochester. How are city officials responding?

BAKER: Well, at a press conference yesterday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said she was disappointed in herself for not acting sooner when she learned what happened to Daniel Prude. And she apologized for what she described as listening to her lawyers instead of listening to her humanity. Here she is in that press conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LOVELY WARREN: And we must, as a society, as a city, face the truth - institutional and structural racism led to Daniel Prude's death.

BAKER: The mayor also placed blame on the chief of police. And she said she was initially told Prude died of a drug overdose and she only found out about officer involvement after the New York state attorney general opened an investigation.

MARTIN: So we mentioned the protests happening in Rochester over this, also in New York City. There was a rally - a protest, rather, last night. What happened? Things got violent. A car went through a crowd?

BAKER: Yes. Well, according to our colleague at WNYC who was out reporting on this, Gwynne Hogan, the crowd of several hundred people had just begun to march out of Times Square Plaza when a car approaches protesters. It stops a little bit. Nobody gets out of the way, and then it accelerates into the crowd. All the protesters were able to jump out of the way, and there were no deaths or major injuries. But police say the car belonged to a group of pro-Trump counterprotesters. Enough people on social media were speculating that it was an unmarked police vehicle that the New York Police Department confronted that misinformation on Twitter, saying the black Taurus sedan is not a police vehicle and an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Liz Baker reporting from Rochester, N.Y. Thank you.

BAKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.