UNITED STATES. Rochester, New York. Over the course of three weeks, a political storm has shaken the foundations of Rochester following the revelation of a high level cover-up of the murder of Daniel Prude, a Black man who was experiencing a mental health crisis, at the hands of the Rochester Police Department (RPD).
Joy Powell brought attention to racial injustice
In the years prior to the Black Lives Matter movement going national, an activist in Rochester stood out and rallied whole neighborhoods to the cause of racial justice. Reverend Joy Powell, like Pastor Myra Brown, the Black pastor who played a key role in de-escalating the Rochester protests over the last two weeks, activated her role in the faith community to bring attention to and address the systemic injustices facing her community.
In the midst of police killings that struck the heart of Rochester’s Black community, Powell stood up and marched through the street with a bullhorn demanding justice and an end to the unchecked occupation of Rochester’s city streets by the RPD.
Powell targeted for her activism
In 2006, Powell was accused and convicted of first degree burglary and assault. In 2011, around the same time she would have gone up for parole for her first charge, Powell was additionally sentenced for murder in the first degree. This murder in question took place in 1992.
To this day she maintains her innocence on all charges and that her conviction was an all-too convenient hush job meant to stifle her activism. As she explains in a statement given during her trial, she was denied the ability to bring key evidence to the stand and was also unable to meet with her Public Defender in the time leading up to the trial.
Powell becomes activist from prison
She continues to engage politically from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility For Women, producing articles and poetry which are available on the website devoted to her cause. Tragically, her Son Terrell Meek was killed in 2018 by RPD in a mental health incident not unlike Daniel Prude’s. These incidents reflect systemic flaws in both public safety and emergency mental health care in Rochester, New York State, and the United States in general.
Powell’s experience, despite its tragedy, is far too common. In addition to her loss of freedom and the loss of her son, this year she faced the added trauma of COVID-19 in Bedford Hills outbreak as inmates did not have the ability to socially distance. She contracted the virus as well and has since recovered.
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Rochester Chapter of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) was founded to support prisoners in two of the largest prison strikes in the United States (2016 and 2018) in the past three decades. The current aim is not only to help incarcerated workers organize but also to assist their families who carry a significant financial burden of loved ones serving time. A coalition of groups is forming in Rochester, coordinated by Powell’s niece, to bring the much needed attention, support, and justice that has been denied to Reverend Powell for so long.
Chris Snyder is a co-founding member of Rochester IWOC