Although there are approximately 162,000 injury-related deaths that take place each year in the U.S., the killing of Daniel Prude has hit Rochesterians particularly hard. Even before George Floyd became a household name for his death at the hands of police, Daniel Prude’s own fatal encounter with law enforcement took place on a cold night in March. And for six months, the details surrounding his death were kept under wraps.
Prude, a visitor to the Rochester area, arrived in the midst of a perceived mental health crisis. After exhibiting erratic behavior, Prude was evaluated by staff at Strong Memorial Hospital but was later released that same night. In the early morning hours of March 23, Prude’s brother placed a second call to emergency services to help him. In an incident caught on video, officers can be seen applying a spit hood and placing Prude in a hold on the ground with a knee to his back. Although some are quick to point out that Prude had PCP in his system at the time, and 1.6 million Americans reportedly used methamphetamine in 2017, Prude’s brother insists that he was not a drug addict. This sequence of events and use of violent force, many have argued, directly led to Prude’s death on March 30.
As a result, nightly protests have taken place and demands have been made for the resignations of various officials throughout local government and the Rochester Police Department. Some of those demands have been met, though it’s clear that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the Flower City. Hot on the heels of several retirement announcements out of RPD — and former Police Chief La’Ron Singletary’s abrupt removal from his position before his retirement could take effect — came a weekend announcement from Mayor Lovely Warren, who herself is not without her fair share of controversy.
At a press conference, Mayor Warren announced that Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan would become the new interim police chief in Rochester, effective October 14. A former RPD Lieutenant who retired in 2009, Herriott-Sullivan has the distinction of being the first woman — much less the first Black woman — to hold the position in the entire history of the city’s police department.
That’s no small accomplishment, even on a national scale. According to the National U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 12% of U.S. police officers are women, with 3% of police chiefs being women. Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) notes that only 3% of all sworn police officers nationwide are Black women. The numbers are slightly higher than average in Rochester, as 13% of police officers are women and 11% of officers are Black.
The mayor has indicated that a national search for a permanent chief of RPD won’t begin until June 2021. It’s possible that Herriott-Sullivan, who also currently serves as the interim deputy director of the Rochester Housing Authority and the deputy executive director of Rose Up Rochester, could be considered for the permanent position. However, she’d need to become a resident of the city itself in order to take the job. While the average American moves 11.7 times in their lifetime, she and her family would need to relocate from Penfield in order to be eligible for the new rules pertaining to RPD employment.
That’s all hypothetical for now, however. In a statement, Herriott-Sullivan explained, “I’ve got a year to do the best I can to help the city and get things on track… These are difficult times for the city of Rochester, and other communities as well. I will do my best to put my experience and commitment to good use in helping Rochester move forward. We will all need to bring our best to the table.”
Whether or not the interim appointment will satisfy those protesting for racial equality and justice in Rochester remains to be seen — but many hope that this could be a step in the right direction.