By Lisa Leonard
Rage, pain and cries for justice boiled into the streets again on Sunday, April 11 following the police murder of African-American youth, Daunte Wright in Minnesota. The new killing, which came in the midst of the high profile trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd last year, has once again ignited tensions that were already running high.
Wright, a 20-year old man with a two-year old child, was killed by police in Brooklyn Center, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis) during a traffic stop. The police story is that Wright was pulled over for an expired registration and that police then found he had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court for a gross misdemeanor charge last June. Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, says her son called her during the stop, asking for his insurance information to give to the police. He told his mother he was being pulled over for an air freshener that was hanging from his mirror. In Minnesota, and many other states, it is legal for officers to pull people over for objects like this that could potentially obstruct the driver’s view. However, this is widely recognized as a tactic that police use to racially profile African Americans, immigrants, and other minorities. It gives police the pretext to pull people over and then search their cars for alleged weapons or drugs. In the immigrant rights community it is common knowledge that immigrants pulled over for minor infractions are then booked into jail and subsequently deported, even if they have not committed any crime.
“Mistake” or Murder
After Katie Wright heard police telling her son to hang up the phone, she heard a short scuffle and the call was disconnected. By the time she called his girlfriend back (who was also in the car at the time), her son was dead. Police body camera footage that was publicly released a day later shows police attempting to arrest Wright. He did not appear to be aggressive, but as he tried to get back into his car Police Officer Kim Potter can be heard shouting “Taser!” several times before she pulls out her gun and shoots Wright in the chest. As Potter is heard shouting “Oh [expletive]! I just shot him!” Wright’s car drove away, and subsequently crashed into another car.
Tim Gannon, the Brooklyn Center police chief, said he thinks Potter mistakenly shot Wright, thinking that she had pulled out her taser instead of her gun. Daunte Wright’s family calls it murder. His father told Good Morning America that he cannot accept the police’s version of events. “ I lost my son. He is never coming back. I can’t accept that. A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right,” he said. Naisha Wright, Daunte’s aunt, said “They murdered my nephew.” She said her great nephew would now be “…fatherless. Not over a mistake, over murder.” The Hennepin County Medical Examiner reported that Wright died of a gunshot wound to his chest and classified the death as a homicide.
The community in Brooklyn Center and the surrounding Twin Cities area responded immediately, gathering at the site of the killing and supporting Daunte’s family. His mother, Katie Wright, called for peaceful protests. Protests that started peacefully later erupted in rage as protestors, mostly youth, moved to the Brooklyn Center police station on Sunday night. Police declared the assembly unlawful and surrounded the police station. Protestors armed with nothing but their voices faced off against officers armed with riot gear, helmets, and billy clubs. While protestors were mostly peaceful, they at times threw trash or water bottles at police. Police responded with rubber bullets, tear gas, and flash grenades. At least 20 businesses, including a Walmart store, were looted in Brooklyn Center, as well as in other areas, including along Lake Street in Minneapolis, the site of riots last year after George Floyd was murdered.
Protestors Defy Curfew
A 7:00 pm curfew was called for four metro counties on Monday night. Despite the curfew, the crowd at the police station was even larger Monday night, perhaps drawing around 1,000 angry protestors. The police presence was also larger and supplemented by the National Guard (which had already been deployed by Governor Tim Walz for the duration of the Derek Chauvin trial), State Troopers, police from nearby towns, and even DNR officers and armored trucks. Police again used an excess of tear gas and rubber bullets against protestors and arrested about 40 people over the course of the night as they pushed protestors out of the area. Protests are expected to continue in the Twin Cities and have also spread to other U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Oakland, California, Portland, Oregon, and Louisville, Kentucky.
City Manager Fired, Killer Cop and Police Chief Resign
Brooklyn Center City Manager Curt Boganey has been fired, and the police chief Tim Gannon and the police officer who shot Wright, Kim Potter, both resigned on Tuesday. It has been reported that charges against the officer involved could be drafted in the next few days. “We want to send the message to the community that we are taking this situation very seriously,” said Mike Elliott, the Brooklyn Center Mayor.
For the local community, the killing of Daunte Wright has ripped open the wounds that have only partially healed since George Floyd was killed last year. Emotions and tensions are already running high since Derek Chauvin’s trial started just a few weeks ago. Attorney Ben Crump, who represented Floyd’s family and has now been retained to represent Wright’s family, said he was stunned when he heard that another Black man had been killed by police. Crump said he thought that throughout the trial “…police would be on their best behavior, that they would exercise the greatest standard of care, that they would concentrate on de-escalation in a way that they have never concentrated in America.”
Minneapolis Hires More Cops
And yet, police continue to kill with impunity, not just in Minneapolis, but around the country. On December 30, 2020, Minneapolis police killed Dolal Idd, a Somali American man, during a shoot out at a gas station just a mile from where Floyd was killed. And despite widespread calls to defund the police, disband the police, and reform the police following George Floyd’s murder, the City of Minneapolis allocated an additional $6.4 million in February of 2021 to hire dozens of additional police officers. The City has also erected concrete barriers, fencing and barbed wire around the courthouse where Chauvin is being tried as well as around local police stations. They have closed streets in downtown Minneapolis and activated the National Guard for the duration of the trial.
Origins of Modern Police State
It has become painfully clear that no matter the outcome of Derek Chauvin’s trial, no matter if Kim Potter is officially charged and convicted for the so-called “accidental” death of Daunte Wright, racial profiling and killings of African Americans and other minorities will continue as long as the U.S. police state remains intact. And that police state was founded on persecution and the violent control of slaves, immigrants and laborers. It was used to enforce the Jim Crow system that replaced slavery, and now to fill the for-profit mass prison and detention system that infects our country. The police force was not created to “protect and serve” the people. Hundreds of years after they initially developed, their purpose remains the same, to protect and serve the property and interests of the ruling class. That will never change unless the people of this country, the immigrants, the indigenous people, the youth, the workers, the people of color, women and LGBTQ people, join together to continue to protest peacefully and fight for a better world. Today we can do that by continuing the struggle against every form of police brutality. Justice for Daunte! Justice for Dolal! Justice for George! Justice for Breonna! Justice for all those killed by police!