The city police chief and other high-ranking officials of the department are leaving their jobs amid public protests. Warren now has the ability to redo his police department, but must do so after distancing himself from the police leadership and leaving questions about his involvement in the case unanswered. Now, the police union and activists aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement have the same message for her: quit.
Warren, 43, is the first African American woman to lead Rochester, a diverse working-class city where white residents make up a plurality of the population. But after more than a week of chaos here on the southern shores of Lake Ontario, Warren has been embroiled in the nation̵
“My heart is with Daniel Prude’s family,” Warren said on September 3. “As mayor, mother, sister, daughter and as a black woman, I am filled with grief and anger with myself for all the failures that led to his death.”
Warren finds herself wedged between the demands of young liberal protesters calling for radical change and the realities of government, including the handling of often conservative police officers who form the backbone of the city’s workforce. Warren expressed her support for many of the protesters’ demands and said her police chief should not be fired before resigning. He refused an interview request.
“Mayors, especially African American mayors, are in a very bad situation because you don’t get the benefit of the doubt from either side,” said Karen Freeman-Wilson, who is black and served as the mayor of Gary, India. ., from 2012 to 2019.
Although black mayors like Muriel E. Bowser (D) in Washington, DC, and Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) in Atlanta, have skillfully navigated their critics on both left and right, the crisis Warren faces now seems much more. volatile.
Among local activists, there was widespread skepticism over Warren’s claim that he did not know how Prude died or that he saw the video until early August, when the city responded to a request for public information from a lawyer representing Prude’s brother. Prude was naked and handcuffed in the video, which shows officers forcing Prude’s head and chest onto the sidewalk on March 23. He died on March 30th.
Warren still hasn’t answered many questions about his involvement in the case, including why he only suspended seven police officers after the video went public. With his public support dwindling, Warren is now trying to make amends for his constituents.
“At this point we just feel betrayed and traumatized by a black woman who is a major oppressor of the black community,” said Stanley Martin, a black protest organizer with Free the People ROC.
The debate over Warren’s leadership in the Prude case largely boils down to what she knew and when, after the Monroe County coroner ruled that Prude’s death was a murder on April 16. His autopsy showed that he died due to “complications of asphyxiation in the environment”. of physical restraint. “The report also said Prude had PCP in her system. Warren said police told her Prude died of a drug overdose.
The Monroe County District Attorney forwarded the case to the New York Attorney General the day Prude’s death was declared a homicide. The district attorney said the referral was mandated by a 2015 government order.
But in early June, Warren’s and the city’s top legal counsel knew of the existence of the camera footage. City attorneys consulted with an assistant to the state attorney general about whether to publicly release the footage; they said the Attorney General’s office advised them not to do this while Prude’s death was under investigation. The Attorney General’s Office said there was no recommendation to hide the information.
City lawyers said they passed the recommendation to Warren. The lawyers admitted that they contacted a lawyer from Prude’s family in early August to see if the family had an interest in solving the case before a lawsuit was filed. Warren said he didn’t see the video until August 4. He suspended seven police officers on September 3, a day after Prude’s family released the video publicly.
Warren, who was a lawyer before he was elected mayor in 2013, is also watching the erosion of his relationship with Rochester police officers.
On Tuesday, Police Chief LaRon Singletary and the rest of the department’s command staff resigned, leaving Warren to make himself alone as the public face of the scandal. The city council later announced that it was hiring a major New York City-based law firm to conduct an “independent review and investigation of internal processes that occurred” between the time the officers first contacted Prude and when the video of the meeting went public.
Tensions between Warren and the leaders of the Rochester Police Locust Club, the union representing more than 700 officers, have been particularly intense.
After Singletary announced he was retiring later this month, Locust Club president Mike Mazzeo asked Warren to step aside, saying he can no longer keep the community safe. He later said Warren had made tactical decisions for the police department, although he didn’t specify what they were.
“The trust of the people and of our members has been critically lost,” Mazzeo said.
Warren responded with a violent assault on Mazzeo, stating that both he and the agents involved in Prude’s death are engaged in “archaic police operations”.
“For 30 years, the problem with the police in Rochester are cops like Mike Mazzeo who watch the video of Daniel Prude’s death and see nothing wrong,” Warren said in a statement.
Freeman-Wilson, now president of the Chicago Urban League, said it was particularly difficult for black mayors to “navigate the space between” encouraged liberal activists and other more rigid parts of a city’s political sphere, including police unions. Activists, Freeman-Wilson said, increasingly expect a black female executive to immediately draw on her own experiences in the fight against racial injustice and her own story to be “first of their class” to push through the changes quickly. desired.
At the same time, she said, some leaders of established groups may appear contemptuous of women in power.
“They expect us to be in line with the line,” Freeman-Wilson said.
But William P. Lightfoot, a Washington attorney and Bowser’s top political advisor, noted that most major city mayors, regardless of race or gender, are facing similar management and governance hurdles this year.
He noted that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D), both white, are also struggling to juggle criticism from both activists and police unions. There are simply more black female mayors than there have been in the past, Lightfoot said. Women of color currently serve as mayors in 10 of the nation’s 100 largest cities – not including Rochester – while there was just one 20 years ago, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics.
“This is the hardest time in the history of the country to be the mayor of a city,” said Lightfoot, who was the president of Bowser’s campaign. “We have an ongoing pandemic that is killing people. We have an economy that has collapsed where our centers are deserted, and we have the excitement of social justice protests and there is violence associated with that, and all of these forces are coming into play regardless of race. “
However, the crises plaguing urban America this year represent a generational opportunity for mayors to push for renovation, even if it means they won’t make everyone happy, said Candis Watts Smith, associate professor of political science and studies. African Americans at Penn State.
“Activists are pushing us to dream bigger and dream bigger,” Watts Smith said.
With a vacant command staff, observers said Warren may have a chance to change the police in town.
A key component of any Rochester police force review will also likely involve revamping the way the department responds to calls involving people suspected of suffering from mental health problems or substance abuse, experts said. Mental health and police training experts said the police in the Prude case did not use decades-old tactics designed to bring unstable people into custody.
City council members are already pushing for police to associate with qualified mental health professionals when answering calls from the emergency health services. Warren, in the wake of Prude’s death, has vowed to revamp the way emergency calls are handled in Rochester.
The mayor has proposed a plan to shift funding and current crisis response responsibilities from the police to a non-police response team that will answer mental health calls, spokesman Justin Roj said.
“Calls will be triaged by 911 and the appropriate resource will be sent,” he said.
Former Rochester officials said the city is now plunged into mistrust.
“There is no training in the world that tells you to put three bodies on top of a prone, naked and unarmed face down man who is an emotionally disturbed person who uses drugs,” said the company’s former legal counsel. Rochester Linda Kingsley, who will serve as pro bono counselor for city council investigations.
Kingsley, who has served under former Rochester Mayor William Johnson for more than a decade, believes the public timeline has led people to lose faith in Warren.
“Right now, the distrust in the community, particularly in young people, is simply devastating,” he said.
Johnson, 78, said Warren faces “a complicated picture” but must step up to try to ease tensions and change the hearts of her staunchest critics.
“You have to sit there, and you have to give some indication that you are genuinely committed to making changes,” Johnson said.
In June, Warren appointed Johnson, the city’s first black mayor, to a commission created to address racial injustices in response to George Floyd’s death and the national movement it sparked.
The idea that Floyd was the inspiration for the Rochester-based Detective Corps months after Prude died silently after being in police custody here “was so ironic because we had our own. [Floyd] situation, and no one has ever acknowledged that it ever existed, “Johnson said.
The commission was blinded by Prude’s case, he said, as were residents who gather and march the streets at night.
“I sat in his chair for 12 years,” Johnson said of Warren. “You better know what the police department is doing.”
Jacobs and Libonati reported from Rochester. Craig reported from Washington. Mark Berman in Washington contributed to this report.