Release Date: September 8, 2020
BUFFALO, N,Y. – Daniel Prude “encountered the coercive arm of the state trained in violence,” says Athena D. Mutua, University at Buffalo School of Law professor and member of the New York State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
“Consequently, police actions involved violence and the reckless disregard for Mr. Prude’s well-being,” she says.
What Prude – a 41-year-old Black man who died last March while in police custody in Rochester, N.Y. – needed and deserved were “unarmed emergency medical technicians and community mental health professionals trained in crisis services,” says Mutua.
Mutua, the law school’s Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar who teaches business and civil rights, said she stands in solidarity with the Prude family, and “those in protest calling for justice on behalf of Mr. Daniel Prude and all the other Black and brown people disproportionally killed by police.”
Prude was having a mental health emergency on March 23, when officers covered his head with a “spit sock” and held him on the ground in a prone position before he stopped breathing. He was declared brain dead and died a week later. His death has spurred fierce protests in Rochester following the release of police body camera video earlier this month.
“Our government, at all levels, spends an obscene amount of money on forces of violence – police, prisons, ICE, the military – state apparatuses that have been the source of tremendous violence both here and abroad,” says Mutua.
“Further, these forces are steeped in and represent a culture of racism, militarism and materialism, as Dr. King commented over 50 years ago, as well as a toxic masculinity borne of a white patriarchal system in which sexism, heterosexism and genderism are embedded. Yet we are told that communities of color should call upon and submit to the armed police occupation of our neighborhoods in order to keep us safe,” she says.
Mutua said she knows “safe” communities when she sees them.
“And they are not occupied by armed forces; rather they are well resourced,” Mutua says. “In contrast to what government spends on institutions of violence, it puts precious few resources of our socially produced collective and inherited wealth into building strong resilient communities – communities in which individuals are trained and rewarded for helping to meet their communities’ basic needs. In fact, like wages, investment in communities has stagnated over several decades and has done so in the face of exploding police budgets, despite declining crime rates,” she says.
“It is time to wind down our prioritization and commitment to institutions of violence and punitive punishment and invest in healthy, sustainable and resilient communities,” says Mutua. “If this environment had existed when Mr. Prude fell ill, perhaps he would be alive today.”