Police Brutality in Rochester Proves that Police ‘Reform’ is a Myth - Advancement Project - Advancement Project

Police Brutality in Rochester Proves that Police ‘Reform’ is a Myth

By Thomas B. Harvey, Justice Project Program Director

Nothing short of police abolition will end the continued abuses of a system of policing designed to systematically oppress Black people and maintain a white supremacist status quo.

Credit: Life Matters

Last month, police in Rochester, New York pepper sprayed, manhandled, handcuffed and arrested a nine-year-old Black girl in obvious mental health crisis. This horrifying violence triggered a familiar and morbid routine: news coverage of this police brutality was met with strongly worded condemnations from political leaders, whose calls to reform policing were centered in the conversation; meanwhile the voices of activists and organizers—who correctly identified that this senseless violence is inextricable from our carceral state—were ignored.

As each day passes, the public narrative will increasingly focus on what (if any) repercussions the individual officers will face. The public discourse will neglect any broader conversation around the brutality at the root of our criminal legal system—which regularly reproduces these acts of violence, primarily against Black and Brown people, both in public and out of sight. It is past time that we recognize there is no reforming these institutions.

Abolition, the eradication of police, prisons, jails, and the entire network of public and private entities that make up the prison industrial complex, is the only path that leads to justice.

Rochester police have made one of the strongest cases yet for police abolition

It is not simply their violent response to a child’s cry for help that makes them the poster child for abolition, it’s that Rochester police have already had gone through virtually every liberal reform imaginable:  bodycams, banned chokeholds, police oversight commission, hiring of Black woman as chief, de-escalation training and the establishment of a special unit to respond to mental health crisis.  None of these reforms fundamentally changed Rochester police.

Arguments for reforming the police instead of abolishing them are predicated on several false premises, most prominent among them that police are central to public safety and the institution of policing can be fixed through a series of slight modifications. Even good faith participants in this debate argue that reforms like hiring more Black officers, anti-bias/anti-racism training, de-escalation training and banning chokeholds or other stops on the way to lethal force will make significant enough change for communities ravaged by generations of racist and predatory policing.

Calls to ‘Defund the Police’ have not resulted in substantive changes.

Reformists also offer their version of defunding the police, which involves shifting a small portion of police funding to social services or to community groups in order to allow them to have agency over how their safety is defined. Instead of viewing this as a fundamental step towards creating the world where police are not necessary, this reformist version envisions the permanence of policing and accepts these minor tradeoffs in order to maintain their long-term power and control over low-income communities of color.

What about starting a movement to defund the police in Rochester? Rochester’s local organizers, Free the People Rochester, along with a broader coalition, called for a 50% reduction in police funding as a starting point in June 2020. They even won the support of a local politician, who claimed that Rochester spends more on policing than it does on schools, libraries, and youth services combined. Organizer Stanley Martin noted that Rochester spends 39% percent of its budget on policing even though 86% of all crimes reported in Rochester are misdemeanors and only 7% are violent crimes.

In spite of this data, and in the middle of the nation’s largest sustained protest against policing’s inherent violence since the Ferguson Uprising, the City of Rochester voted to do almost nothing. They approved a budget that cut the next police recruiting class in half, but gave that money to the police for “plans of revamped policing.” Additionally, they moved $130,000 to staff recreation and youth services. None of this resulted in meaningful change.

Furthermore, we now know that the police, the City of Rochester, and its lawyers were working together to suppress public information about the police killing of Daniel Prude in March 2020 in the middle of these budget discussions. Even though Prude’s brother called police and told them he was in crisis, police showed up and used force against him. Prude, who was unarmed and naked, was slammed to the ground while police put their knee in his back and forced his head into a “spit hood”, which made it impossible for him to breathe. He died a week later. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. Neither the public nor the City council knew this when they voted on the issues.

Reform has not quelled police violence or made the institution of policing more accountable

After police killed Daniel Prude, City officials followed the textbook response to the overwhelming proof of uncontrollable police violence, this time caught on video. The police demonized Prude, the City of Rochester denied responsibility and their lawyers refused to provide information to the public. They did everything in their power to ensure that the public knew as little as possible about their indifference to Black life that led to the death of Daniel Prude, a forty-one-year-old Black man.

When this information was finally made public after litigation, the people of Rochester protested for transformational change. Not satisfied with using extreme violence against a naked, unarmed man in the middle of an obvious mental health crisis, the Rochester police brutalized protesters who dared to speak out against state sponsored killings and the subsequent efforts to cover it up.

Following the protests, the City of Rochester adopted the entire panoply of ineffective reforms listed above: bodycams, banned chokeholds and a police oversight commission. A few cops were fired and the City hired a Black woman as chief. The most serious change, however, came when the City of Rochester established a new unit specifically designed to address mental health crises that would be outside of the police department. The mayor announced the start of the new program on January 21, 2021.

In spite of this new program, Rochester police responded to a call for a “family disturbance” with 9 cops in full body armor, pepper spray, handcuffs, guns and batons. These heavily armed people came into contact with a crying nine-year-old girl who was screaming for her father.  They forcibly restrained this child and shoved her into the police car, telling her that she was “acting like a child” to which she responded, “I am a child.”

Predictably, the police union defended the behavior of the cops, as it did following Daniel Prude’s death, and when the mayor announced she was suspending the police officers with pay during an investigation, she pointedly noted that she could do no more because of the union contract.

Even when a police department like the City of Rochester’s has been caught on video twice within a single year violently assaulting unarmed Black people who posed no threat to anyone, the City, the police union and the leadership will unite to maintain police legitimacy.

Nothing short of police abolition will end the continued abuses of a system of policing designed to systematically oppress Black people, maintain a white supremacist status quo and sometimes profit financially in so doing.  The Rochester police are not unique; they are just the latest example.

Thomas Harvey

Thomas B. Harvey is the Justice Project Program Director at Advancement Project National Office, a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive, and just democracy.

KEEP READING

Esri, and the Racial Equity Anchor Institutions Partner to Launch Survey on Policing Budgets Across Country

Washington, DC – On February 25, 2021 at 10:00 am ET, the Racial Equity Anchor Institutions and Esri will host a virtual press briefing on the launch of a new initiative to survey and track policing budgets in targeted areas around the nation. The new initiative is an effort to aid communities on their journey to better engage with and potentially reimagine what public safety looks like, neighborhood by neighborhood. Interested media can register to attend by visiting https://naacpheadquarters.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_eMlWidmDQgeG1qKqHWkdDg. 2020 and 2021 presented highs and lows across the country. It has been exhausting for our nation, communities, and…

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Issues Statement on President Biden’s Executive Orders Addressing Racial Equity

“We acknowledge and commend the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to make racial equality a legislative priority and center piece to their agenda."

Read More
Fighting for Voting Rights is How We Honor Dr. King’s Legacy

By Jorge L. Vasquez, Jr., Program Director, Power and Democracy until every eligible voter has equal access to the polls and every voting age citizen is eligible to vote without unnecessary and unwarranted interference, there will always be citizens who, as Dr. King coined, “cannot live as a democratic citizen.” “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind-it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact-I can only submit…

Read More
Police Continue to Protect White Supremacy

If this attack on the Capitol showed one thing, it’s that law and order only applies to Black and Brown people. By Marques Banks, Justice Project Staff Attorney As the nation watched white supremacists storm the United States Capitol, I thought about how police react in strikingly different ways to white protesters versus Black protesters. I am a lawyer who has supported protests over police murders from Mike Brown to George Floyd. I was in the streets and personally watched as my friends, colleagues, and other protesters were beaten, teargassed, and arrested in massive numbers for exercising their…

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Responds to DA Announcement in Jacob Blake Shooting

The Kenosha County District Attorney, Michael Graveley, today announced that Rusten Sheskey, the police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in August will not be criminally charged.

Read More
National Civil Rights Groups Sue Louisiana Judges, Sheriff Over Unconstitutional Bail System

Lawsuit aims to end Baton Rouge’s cash bail system after another person dies awaiting trial at local jail BATON ROUGE, LA – Last night, Fair Fight Initiative, MacArthur Justice Center and Advancement Project National Office sued East Baton Rouge officials in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, seeking to end the immoral and unconstitutional practice of wealth-based incarceration in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (EBRPP). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individuals who are being held inside of EBRPP and are unable to afford their bail.

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Responds to First 2020 Presidential Debate

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden faced off in the first of three 2020 presidential debates. On the topic of national protests resulting from the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others, Advancement Project National Office released the following statement.

Read More
Advancement Project National Office Responds to Breonna Taylor Decision

Six months have passed since Louisville police murdered 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her home on March 13, 2020. After months of nationwide protest and uprisings, and both local and national demands to defund the police, a Louisville Grand Jury’s decision was announced today. Attorney General Daniel Cameron today made an announcement regarding the investigation into Taylor’s murder, stating that it was not up to him to decide if the loss of Breonna’s life was a tragedy and that, “the answer to that question was unequivocally yes.” However, the Grand Jury’s decision to indict only one of…

Read More
Civil Rights Organizations Debunk Myths of No COVID-19 Cases in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison

Impacted people behind bars share harrowing stories of coronavirus outbreaks, unsanitary conditions Baton Rouge, LA – Last night, several civil rights and racial justice organizations pushed back on efforts by the Sheriff and Warden of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison to silence the detainees trapped inside the facility and to hide from community members and taxpayers what the organizations say is really happening in the jail.  The Sheriff and Warden, defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by the advocates, claim that the jail has the coronavirus pandemic under control, but the plaintiffs and…

Read More