Rochester civil rights, police brutality lawsuit response combined

Community attorney Ravi Mangla said the civil rights lawsuit filed Monday in the US District Court for West New York calling for federal oversight of the Rochester Police Department was “long overdue”.

“It seems like something we’ve been waiting for after years of abuse by RPD,” said Mangla.

Mangla and others who have participated in Black Lives Matter protests over police reform expressed cautious optimism or skepticism when asked about the possible implications of the lawsuit.

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Disability rights attorney Jeiri Flores participated in the protests in September in response to the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old black man who was held back by Rochester police and never regained consciousness. Protesters took to the streets in early September 2020 after the video of the incident was released to the public.

The lawsuit cites police clashes with protesters in September and October as examples of the agency’s pattern of excessive violence, particularly against people of color.

Flores said the lawsuit calling for sweeping reform changes and remedial action against the racist, predatory, brutal culture and actions of the Rochester Police Department marks the culmination of years of bad blood between the police and the community.

“That’s all that comes together, not just Daniel Prude’s situation,” said Flores. “Every summer when little children are stopped for looking like they are up to something. They are vicious. How do you fix that, my question is?”

The lawsuit points to failed attempts by the city to monitor the police as a reason the police brutality against colored people in Rochester has not been punished for at least 50 years.

According to the lawsuit, the Rochester Police Department has failed to discipline officers who violate the rules of justice, use excessive force, or engage in racist police force.

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The department’s internal investigations into police officers accused of brutality against people of color are toothless. They are sending messages from supervisors to officials working in Rochester that such violence is exempt from discipline, the lawsuit said.

Police officers who join white supremacist groups are allowed to keep their taxpayer-funded jobs with the law enforcement agency responsible for the public safety of a city populated by large numbers of black and brown residents.

Real change means transformation in all government agencies in the city, said Flores.

On September 2, 2020, a crowd gathers in front of the public security building to protest against the police and the so-called murder of Daniel Prude.  The crowd walked from the Public Security Building on Jefferson Ave.  where the police held a hooded prude to the ground trying to make a mental health arrest.  Prude's head was pressed into the ground early March 23, 2020, and CPR had to be performed on him.  He died a week later.  The police aim their pepper ball rifles at the crowd.  The Rochester Police Captain Raymond Dearcop, hat or helmet off, directs the officers.

“It took a long time,” she said. “Suing you is great, but it’s a (systemic) problem.”

Anthony Miller is a lifelong Rochestarian. The 27-year-old said that while reform was needed, he was not surprised and unfazed by a lawsuit.

“It is about time,” said Miller. “Something had to be done, but will the power structure really give way?”

Mangla said he doubts federal surveillance will create the development he deems necessary to get Rochester police force to fully service all of the city’s residents.

To bring about lasting change, Mangla suggests a different approach.

“What we need is community control,” he said. “We need community oversight by an independent, fully-funded police accountability body that is not hampered by lawsuits and political attacks from the Locust Club (police union).”

According to reform advocates who spoke to the Democrat and the Chronicle, the community’s confidence in their police department has declined as both local and national incidents of police violence and brutality pile up.

When asked what would restore that trust, both Mangla and Miller spoke of transforming the Rochester Police Department into a force resembling the neighborhoods they seek to protect and serve.

According to the city’s open data portal, of the 701 sworn employees of RPD, only 77 are black and 43 are city residents.

“We have cops who don’t reflect the diversity of Rochester,” said Mangla.

Rochester Police were called to Rochester, NY City Hall because protesters did not allow staff to enter the building on September 16, 2020.  This was the second morning demonstrators did not allow entry.  Protesters said they would not move until officers involved in Daniel Prude's fatal death were released and arrested.  Stanley Martin, who held up his arms and knew she would be arrested for standing in the street, did not defy the police when the first line of officers pushed her behind them to be handcuffed.  An office puts its baton over her shoulder as he pushes her back.

Rochester has a residence requirement for many of its employees, but the State Civil Servants Act exempts police officers and firefighters from city government residence requirements.

“There’s no way the majority of the police are coming from other cities,” Miller said. “You don’t know us.”

Antonia Wynter, who works with the Community Justice Initiative, agrees that the involvement of community members is essential to any proposed reform or bill.

“I think any government agency – state, local or federal – needs to include the people who actually have to bear the brunt of the legislative changes,” said Wynter. it will be incomplete. “

CJI continues to urge the passage of a law that would lift qualified immunity and the passage of the Na’ilah Law which, if passed, would prevent officials from handcuffing children or spraying children with pepper.

“Removing qualified immunity will remove the safety net the police have when they kill someone. As far as federal reform is concerned, it would be a big step in the right direction,” said Wynter.

Craig Carson, also of CJI, said ending white supremacy in police work in Rochester was a focus.

“We’re looking at how little pieces of the puzzle can be a powerful blow to white supremacy in our city and the police,” Carson said.

While this lawsuit marks a milestone in the city’s history, some of those who called Rochester home seem to believe that the city’s public safety issues are too complex to be resolved by a lawsuit.

“I know some amazing cops who take care of the people in the community – but then there are the apples that are problematic,” said Flores. “This city is so complex and there are so many things that are historically rooted. I feel like I’m in the water. Change just can’t happen with the police. Change has to happen at every level of city government to see a difference.” . “

Adria R. Walker, collaborating with Report for America, reports on Democratic and Chronicle Public Education. Follow her on Twitter at @adriawalkr or email her at [email protected]. You can support their work with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.

Contact Robert Bell at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @byrobbell & Instagram: @byrobbell

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