As the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with the May 2020 murder of George Floyd, entered its eleventh day on Monday, another police killing of a Black man in Minnesota has grabbed the state’s—and the nation’s—attention.
Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed by a police officer in the city of Brooklyn Center, an inner-ring suburb with a larger than average Black, Latino and Asian population 10 miles from Minneapolis, on April 11 during a mid-afternoon traffic stop.
The mood in Brooklyn Center was tense Monday afternoon. This is a city of many shopping centers and chain outlets, modest but well-kept middle-class homes where the toys of comfort are visible—multiple cars in most driveways and boats, trampolines in back yards and small, remarkably green yards for this time of year in Minnesota.
During an April 12 press conference, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said that Wright was stopped due to “expired registration on the vehicle” he was driving. When the officers arrived at the car, they saw a “hanging item from the rearview mirror” which is also a violation of state law. The hanging item in question was an air freshener, Wright’s mother Katie Wright said on Sunday.
The shooting that soon ensued was the result of an “accidental discharge,” Gannon continued, as police attempted to arrest Wright for an outstanding warrant. (Gannon did not share details on what the outstanding warrant was but said it was a “gross misdemeanor warrant.”)
Body-camera footage of the shooting was played during the press conference. In the footage, Wright is seen being apprehended by an officer before he attempts to get back in the front seat of his car. At this, one female officer is heard yelling “I’ll tase you! I’ll tase you!”
But rather than pointing a taser at Wright, however, the officer has a handgun pointed towards his torso. She then shoots him.
“It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon said. “This appears to me from what I viewed and the officer’s reaction in distress immediately after that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
It’s unclear if the officer followed protocol and had her gun and taser holstered on different sides of her belt—or how she could mistake the two weapons.
“This is deeply tragic and we’re going to do everything that we can to ensure that justice is done and ensure that our communities remain whole,” Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said on April 12.
Speaking out on Sunday evening, Katie Wright said that her son had called her when he was getting pulled over. She told him that, once the officers returned to his car, she would talk to them. But upon their return, she instead said she heard some scuffling.
“I heard the police officer say ‘Daunte don’t run,’ and then the other officer said to ‘put the phone down’ and then hung it up,” Katie Wright said. “Like a minute later I called and his girlfriend answered… and said that he’d been shot.”
“Daunte Wright is yet another young Black man killed at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve all of us—not just the whitest among us,” Civil Rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is now representing the family, said in an April 12 statement. “This level of lethal force was entirely preventable and inhumane.”
The shooting led to protests and unrest overnight as officers and demonstrators clashed in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department building. Throughout the night, there were reports of objects being thrown towards the police station, while police officers worked to disperse the crowds.
On Monday afternoon, clusters of National Guard offers were visible near entrances to the shopping center looted Sunday night. And at the police department, Minnesota State Troopers, local police and a few National Guard troops stood sentry outside as a crane erected more barricades. The troopers and local police were outfitted in riot gear and long wooden batons.
As protesters still on the scene drew closer to the law enforcement flank, those in uniform began lowering their protective face shields. A white man stood inches from local officers holding a cardboard sign above his head that read “MURDER” “MURDER” “MURDER” on one side and “WHY DID DAUNTE DIE?” on the other side. A Black man yelling “murderers,” near the officers was maced. Protesters rushed to his aid to pour milk onto his skin and into his eyes.
Later in the afternoon, protesters—many of whom had been standing across the street from police headquarters—began to cross the street, chanting “Say his name, Daunte Wright” inches from the officers.
During a press conference on Sunday, Katie Wright had asked for any protesting to remain peaceful. “We need to make sure it’s about him and not about smashing police cars because that’s not going to bring my son back,” she said. “I don’t want everybody out here chanting and screaming and yelling, I just want him home.”
The national guard has been deployed to the city, with a curfew in effect for the Twin Cities metro area; COVID-19 vaccine sites in Brooklyn Center and at the area airport were closed early to allow workers time to get home before the curfew goes into effect. But candlelight vigils are planned tonight at Brooklyn Center Police Headquarters and near the spot where Wright was shot and killed. Unless organizers plan to begin while the sun remains in place, the vigils will put those gathered at odds with the curfew order.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is investigating the shooting. In a statement sent to TIME, the BCA stated that it is in the very early stages of their investigation and is awaiting the county medical examiner to conduct their preliminary autopsy.
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