Video of police suffocating Daniel Prude is horrifying, but Americans need to watch it
Video from police body cameras shows Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man from Chicago, being suffocated by police officers on a street in Rochester, New York, on a cold, early morning in March. Prude died seven days later after his family had him removed from life support.
You need to watch that video.
Prude’s death happened two months before George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer launched an ongoing wave of national protests against police brutality and racial bias in policing. But the video of Prude was only released this week, on Wednesday, after his family obtained it through a public records request.
The video of what police officers did to Prude, who was naked and handcuffed, is horrifying. The police officers around him are, at one point, laughing and cracking jokes while he’s face down on the street with a fabric bag known as a “spit hood” tied over his head, suffocating.
It’s painful to hear Prude’s final sounds. It was painful to watch video of Floyd slowly dying on the street in Minneapolis. And it was painful to hear the crack of gunshots as a police officer in Kenosha shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back at close range.
But those videos must be watched. People need to see what happened to Prude, whose death was ruled a homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint.” People need to see Floyd’s final breaths. People need to see Blake being shot in front of his children.
In the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., are the words of Elie Wiesel, author and Holocaust survivor: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”
We can’t understand what we don’t see. We can’t fix what we look away from. We can’t make sure horrible acts aren’t repeated if we avert our eyes.
So watch the video and see how Prude was treated. He was found to have phencyclidine, or PCP, in his system. Did that and his erratic behavior, while cuffed and naked, warrant a death sentence?
The father of five had traveled to Rochester in March to visit one of his brothers. A family member said Prude had been struggling with the recent deaths of his mother and another brother.
On the evening of March 22, he was taken to a Rochester hospital for a mental health evaluation for suicidal thoughts. He was released to his brother, then around 3 a.m. the next day, the brother called 911 because Prude had fled the house.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help. Not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said during a news conference in New York.
When police found Prude he was in the street naked and agitated, shouting nonsensically as a light snow fell. The police asked him to get on the ground and put his hands behind his back, and he quickly complied.
Police say Prude was spitting, so they put a spit hood on him, at which point Prude became more agitated. Officers then slammed the naked and handcuffed man to the ground, with one white officer holding Prude’s head down on the street with both hands.
Per an Associated Press report:
“Another officer places a knee on his back.”
“ ‘Trying to kill me!’ Prude says, his voice becoming muffled and anguished under the hood.”
“ ‘OK, stop. I need it. I need it,’ the prone man begs before his shouts turn to whimpers and grunts.”
Joe Prude said: “How did you see him and not directly say, ‘The man is defenseless, buck naked on the ground. He’s cuffed up already. Come on.’ How many more brothers gotta die for society to understand that this needs to stop?”
It’s a good question. How many videos like this have to come out before Americans — all Americans — stand up and say: Enough. This is not fair. This is not justice, in any sense. And this must stop.
For that to happen, I believe, people must bear witness.
If you can watch the protests happening across the country and shake your head at the anger and chaos, or at the destruction that has sometimes bubbled up from communities enraged, you better be able to watch the raw, painful events that have prompted civil unrest.
You need to feel the visceral pain of watching the life snuffed out of a naked man in need of help and compassion, and figure out if what you’re seeing from the people we count on to protect us seems right. Or fair. Or just.
Because it’s easy to denounce the outcry if you’re evading the moments that chip away at the souls of those who bear witness. It’s easy, and it’s cowardly.
Nobody should look away from videos of these horrible events. Because everybody needs to understand the ghastly weight of these tragedies, no matter how uncomfortable.
We owe it to the dead, and the living. We must bear witness.