Editorial: Another senseless death: What Daniel Prude's arrest says about New York's awful mental health care system

The images captured on Rochester, New York, police body-worn camera are shocking. They show Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man, naked in the street, a hood over his head, surrounded by police officers. Prude died in police custody in late March, of asphyxiation, after officers placed a “spit hood” on him — a device intended to prevent suspects in custody from spitting on arresting officers — and pressed his face to the asphalt.

Protesters have taken to the streets upstate. State Attorney General Tish James is investigating. The officers involved have been suspended.

There’s plenty to untangle here, but as the facts come into focus, the tragedy initially seems less a damning indictment of racist policing than a stark example of everything wrong with New York’s ramshackle mental health care system — which uses jails as mental institutions and by default tasks cops as front-line mental health workers. Nearly 22% of people killed by police in the U.S. since 2015 had a mental illness.

Prude was arrested on March 23 when a truck driver called 911, reporting someone running naked through the street, attempting a car break-in and shouting he had coronavirus. Consistent with protocol, officers fearful of the pandemic put the hood over Prude’s head because he was spitting and shouting he had COVID-19.

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