• Sat. May 8th, 2021

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In Minnesota, a grieving community desperate for change after officer killed Daunte Wright

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — America’s most recent high-profile killing of a Black man at the hands of police happened in the backyard of the one that set off protests across the country and globe nearly a year ago.

Daunte Wright, who was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police during a traffic stop on April 11, 2021.Courtesy Wright Family

Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a small city in Hennepin County where 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed Sunday during a traffic stop, is about 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis officer in May and where a former officer charged with second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter is currently standing trial.

On Monday night, despite a 7 p.m. curfew enacted by Minnesota Gov. Tim Waltz, protesters stood face to face with Brooklyn Center officers, saying enough is enough, with large crowds demonstrating long into the night.

“My first thoughts are anger and rage because of this systematic racism that happens over and over again,” said P. J. Hill, vice president of the NAACP in Minnesota. “Regardless if we know the facts, it’s just another Black man being killed, and this runs deep in our community. People need to understand that things need to change.”

Elise Goodwin said she’s tired of shootings and the loss of Black lives by law enforcement.

“Daunte Wright was unjustly murdered, and change needs to happen,” she said at Monday’s rally outside the Brooklyn Police Department, where hundreds gathered to demonstrate. “We’re here to say we’ve had enough.”

Daunte Wright’s mother, Katie, eulogizes her son at his vigil, in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 12, 2021.Jeff Wheeler / Star Tribune via AP

Some said Wright’s death is symbolic of what has long happened to Black people in America.

“This has been happening. The only difference is we have cameras now. This is another arm of oppression that’s been allowed to thrive for a long time,” said Brooklyn Center resident Cliff Orange, 42, who believes the officer who killed Wright should stand trial.

Mayor Mayor Mike Elliott said on NBC’s “TODAY” show on Tuesday that he understands the frustration and outrage of the protesters.

“We’ve seen this far too many times where a young black man or woman is pulled over by police or encounters police and they end up dead,” he said. “People protesting are asking when will this stop.”

“Please know that we are working to get justice, and ultimately I do believe very strongly that we will get justice,” Elliott added. “But we also need transformation in this country.”

“In this country, if you’re black and you get pulled over by the police, you have a very much higher chance of being dead just because you’re black, and just because you’re encountering police. That is a fact we have to all wrestle with.”

Supporters of Black lives traveled from far and wide to protest injustice in Minnesota on Monday night.

“I’ve been doing this for many years, and I’m going to keep doing it until the police stop shooting Black people,” said South Minneapolis protester Katie Knoblauch.

Over the weekend, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department pulled Wright over. Police said he was stopped because the SUV he was driving had expired plates. Wright’s family said he was stopped over the air fresheners hanging on the rearview mirrors, which is against state law.

Wright was shot while officers attempted to apprehend him on an undisclosed outstanding misdemeanor warrant they discovered after they pulled him over.

Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said he believed his officer, who has since been identified as Kim Potter, intended to grab her Taser before she shot Wright in the chest.

“As I watched the video and listened to the officer’s commands, it is my belief the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon said Monday while releasing body-cam video of the shooting. “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 a tragic death of Mr. Wright.”

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the shooting, and the officer has been placed on leave.

Elliott reiterated Tuesday that he wants the officer fired.

“We’re going to pursue justice wherever it leads,” Elliott said. “Whenever, through the line of duty, someone kills another human being, there must be accountability.”

People gather to light candles in honor of Daunte Wright, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 12, 2021.Deon J. Hampton / NBC News

Wright’s death comes as the community and beyond are tuned in to the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes in May, and could draw sharper attention and critique to the trial.

This week, defense lawyers will try to prove Chauvin’s innocence. His attorney has argued that Floyd’s use of illegal drugs and his underlying health conditions caused his death, not Chauvin’s kneeling on him.

“The protest is what brings a lot of attention, but we need policy change. But even that may not be enough if the blue culture doesn’t change,” Hill said. “Culture trumps policy any day. The blue code is a culture that needs to be undone.”

He concluded: “If a veteran officer can’t tell the difference between a gun and taser they shouldn’t be out there anyway.”

Elisha Fieldstadt contributed.