ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Ten months have passed since Daniel Prude died in police custody after being subdued by officers on a Rochester street.
As a grand jury prepares its findings in the case and efforts to reform policing across New York move along, citizens desperate to heal are trying to find a way. Will they find some comfort in blankets donated to a drive inspired by Prude's death?
Cold feet have never been a problem for Clay Harris when it comes to doing something that matters in the place where he was born and raised.
Harris organized a blanket drive. He helped deliver some of them through the southwest of Rochester; through the neighborhoods where he grew up. Harris trudged through the snow to do it.
"I got frostbites, I got frostbitten," said Harris. "We got emergency responder blankets for BPD. That means Brighton Police Department."
Harris led a drive through the Montgomery Neighborhood Center in Rochester to put one of these blankets and every police cruiser in the area.
"The Daniel Prude situation adds a new kindling to the fire that divides this community," Harris said.
The community continues to deal with the scars of Prude's death. Rochester police found him naked in the middle of a city street, high on PCP, and in the midst of a mental health crisis last March. A police officer subdued him. Prude lost consciousness and died a week later in the hospital. The medical examiner ruled Prude died of asphyxia.
Prude's death was not a public matter for more than five months, and it only became public after his family's attorney announced it and released police camera video of the incident.
It led to weeks of protests, calls for law-enforcement and social justice reform, the firing of Rochester's police chief, and the police chief claiming the mayor knew about the nature of Prude's death days, not months, after it happened. All of it has divided a city.
"What are we going to do to not let that happen again," Harris said.
While investigations continue as to the cause of Prude's death, it was the lasting image of a man in crisis, naked in the middle of the street, on a cold winter night, which created the effort Harris is leading.
One of those assisting with the distribution of blankets for police was Monroe County Sheriff's Deputy Kadijia Fong.
Spectrum News asked, considering what happened in March of 2020, why did the blanket drive matter?
"It matters because it’ll help build a bridge in the community," said Fong.
"It’s obviously great outreach right in the community," said Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter.
Baxter was joined in the distribution of blankets by officers from the Rochester, Irondequoit, Brighton, Gates, and East Rochester police forces.
And what started as an effort to remember what happened to Daniel Prude grew. So many blankets came into the fire stations and police stations around Rochester that the drive was able to extend them to social service agencies and at-risk seniors.
Harris’ experience as a contractor and an organizer helped bring government leaders together for this. He knows it’s not going to change the pain absorbed by Prude's death on its own.
“It’s really about unifying. And it’s about healing. You’ve heard those buzz words throughout America," Harris told volunteers as they prepared to distribute the blankets in the final days of January.
Harris accompanied half a dozen police officers around the streets of the 19th Ward, knocking on doors and cheerily greeting seniors with blankets.
“It’ll help me keep warm while I’m sitting in watching TV,” said Ms. Dousette, who gladly accepted a donated blanket.
"We’re still divided in terms of city-county and we shouldn’t be because we’re one community and we can’t have one without the other,” Harris said. “We got more in common than we have different. What can we do?”