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“The Legacy of Lynching is Alive in America”

Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass Descendants Respond to Death of Daniel Prude

(September 4, 2020, Rochester, NY) Michelle Duster and Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., direct descendants of Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass respectively responded with grief and frustration following the recent focus on the death of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York which took place several months ago in March of 2020.

“The images of this Black man, who was suffering from a medical crisis while being restrained naked, in the middle of the street, with a hood placed over his head as snow falls and the police surround him is heartbreaking,” recounts Michelle Duster, great-granddaughter of Wells. “It’s hard for me to accept that this is how our country deals with people who clearly need medical care. But how can I, or anyone else, not conclude that the brutal way that Black people in crisis are treated as criminals, versus people who need mercy, is still a national crime. What happened to Mr. Prude is reminiscent of what occurred during my great-grandmother’s time.  It looked like a lynching, which makes me think that the legacy of lynching is alive in America.

“The technical definition of lynching is murder at the hands of a mob with or without due process of law.  Most lynchings from Reconstruction through the mid-1930s were committed with impunity.  The legacy of murdering Black people with no consequences is something that still plagues our country today.”

Ida B. Wells spent most of her adult life fighting for justice and equality.  She used journalism as a form of activism to expose the reality and brutality of lynching for what it was—domestic terrorism; a method to keep African Americans in certain stations within our society, one of servitude and control.  

“Frederick Douglass was a longtime resident of Rochester and he rests here today at Mt. Hope Cemetery,” said Kenneth B. Morris, Jr, Douglass’s great-great-great-grandson. “I know his heart would break to see Mr. Prude being dehumanized and killed in this way. Those responsible for Mr. Prude’s death must be charged. They will undoubtedly enjoy a fair and dignified judicial process while being defended by police union attorneys. That’s in stark contrast to the brand of injustice Mr. Prude received.”

“This tragedy,” added Ms. Duster, “uncovers the terrible toll of racism on Black mental health. Like millions of Americans, Daniel Prude suffered from mental illness and desperately needed a health professional at a key moment in his life. Yet, as a Black man with mental illness, he was treated by police officers with contempt, ridicule and scorn. Too many African Americans with mental illness have been abused, neglected and abandoned by the healthcare system.  Daniel Prude paid the price for that neglect with his life.”

Mr. Morris finished by saying, “Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives has its headquarters in Rochester. Michelle Duster and I agree that this nation needs to call for more equitable resourcing of mental health programs in communities of color – and we call on the city of Rochester to re-allocate portions of its police budget for the hiring of community mental health professionals who would help save Black lives at perilous moments like the one Daniel Prude faced last March.”

Michelle Duster is an author, professor, and public historian who has written several books and worked on projects that highlight the contributions of African Americans including Wells.

Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, a Rochester, New York-based, Abolitionist and AntiRacist public charity.

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