by M. Anthony Davis
Yesterday morning, as I reluctantly tuned in to the Derek Chauvin trial, which absurdly feels like the George Floyd trial, my Twitter timeline was ambushed with #DaunteWright. As Chauvin was on trial in Minneapolis for the murder of George Floyd, another Black man, Daunte Wright, was murdered by a police officer a few miles away in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
Daunte Wright was 20 years old. One year removed from being a teenager. On Sunday, he was pulled over for driving a car with expired registration and breaking a Minnesota law that prohibits motorists from hanging items like air fresheners from their rearview mirrors. That traffic violation ultimately cost him his life.
I tried not to watch the video. I didn’t need to see it. I heard how it started and I had heard how it ended. Why put myself through the trauma? I shouldn’t have. But I did. And now, like so many of you, like the family and infant child that Wright has left behind, I am left sharing the communal trauma yet again.
But this is not about me. It is about us. It is about how we must ride this emotional roller coaster for the duration of our lives. It’s a never-ending cycle of violence and trauma that we learn to normalize but can never truly escape. Even now, as I write this, I feel numb. I woke up Monday morning with a heavy heart from the shooting on 23rd and Jackson on Sunday that left four people wounded including a 2-year-old child who is in critical condition. From the pain of the bloodshed in the Central District, I transitioned to the pain of Floyd and his family. Now we are suffering the pain of Wright and his family. When will the violence end?
What hurts so much with the Wright shooting is the swiftness with which the media and local police have worked to shift the narrative. Mainstream media have already started printing headlines stating that the shooting was an accident. The New York Times printed an article citing the Brooklyn Center police chief, who claimed the officer who shot Wright meant to reach for her taser and accidently pulled her gun. If this is true, manslaughter charges should be discussed soon, but I’m not hopeful that will happen. I don’t have the privilege of expecting justice when police kill people who look like me.
I was also hurt by President Biden’s comments. After campaigning on the idea that he had a plan to improve the lives of Black Americans, and rolling out his “Lift Every Voice” agenda, and then having Black people carry him over the finish line in the November election, it was disheartening to hear his comments. He spoke strongly to condemn protestors who may or may not damage property, but he was careful to not condemn any police officers before waiting to see “what the entire investigation shows.” In fact, in his statement he addressed protestors longer than he addressed police or the family of the victim.
It would be easy to continue to criticize Biden for what he did say. But instead, I will criticize him for what he didn’t say. We know that as time progresses, more facts will come out to prove whether or not the officer who shot Wright did so by mistake. But there are plenty of facts that we already have that Biden could have cited in his statement.
For example, in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, which is about 10 miles from Brooklyn Center where Wright was murdered, the demographic statistics on use of force by police is staggering. In a city that is 19% Black and 63% white according to 2019 census data, 62.8% of reported cases of police use of force happened to Black people. Even though Black people make up less than a quarter of the city’s population, Black people accounted for almost two thirds of all cases that involved force. Biden had an opportunity to speak on the discrepancy of force used by police in this region, but instead he used his time to address protestors who may or may not damage property in response to a young man being killed over a traffic stop.
The lingering question that I have after today is this: where is the humanity?
Daunte Wright lost his life after a traffic stop due to air fresheners hanging from his rear view mirror. Why are police stopping people for that? What are the police here to do? How can we allow routine traffic stops to claim the lives of human beings? I saw the video. I know Wright tried to flee. Why not let him go? He had a warrant. You will catch him later. And the warrant in question was for a nonviolent crime. Wright had no known history of violent crime. The police had no reason to see him as a threat. Yet, instead of allowing him to flee, they took his life.
Daunte Wright’s life should have been worth more than expired plates, air fresheners, or a bench warrant. George Floyd’s life should have been worth more than a counterfeit $20 bill. Damage done by protestors will never amount to the damage done to our community when we witness our people lynched with impunity. Our lives matter. We deserve to be treated with human decency.
It is now reported that officer Kim Potter, who shot Wright, and Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, who is on record saying the shooting was an accident, have both submitted their resignations. Even if these resignations are accepted and both officers step down, this is not enough. We need justice. We can’t allow either of these individuals to quietly walk away and be rehired by another police force in a different city.
Potter, who previously served as president of the local police union, must see her day in court. As an officer with 26 years experience on duty and time served as union president, saying she mistook her handgun for her taser is not a good enough explanation for why a man lost his life. This critical error should lead to criminal charges and an official end to her career in law enforcement.
As we continue to see protests across the country in the aftermath of Wright’s death, let’s remember that a young man lost his life. A young father will never again hold his child or see his family. Damaged property can be replaced. Daunte Wright’s life is gone forever, and our community is left with the lingering trauma of yet another unnecessary death.
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
📸 Featured Image: A memorial to Daunte Wright — who was killed by a police officer over the weekend in a Minneapolis suburb — was created by protesters who gathered for a vigil in Seattle’s Occidental Square on the evening of Monday, April 12. (Photo: Chloe Collyer)
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