Yet another police killing occurring while a former officer is on trial for murder has only further exacerbated the conflict between law enforcement and the Black community.
Mere miles from where former police officer Derek Chauvin is standing trial for the death of George Floyd, another police killing of a Black man has reignited protests and anger. On April 11, the 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed in his car during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed last May.
Minneapolis has been the epicenter of Black Lives Matter protests for much of 2020 and 2021 after Floyd died during a police encounter. Officer Chauvin had been holding Floyd down with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder in June and, after a delay, his trial began in early March, with opening statements given on March 29.
Floyd’s death, along with the police killings of numerous other Black citizens, sparked outrage from protesters who said his death was the result of police overreach and institutional racism. It led to a push to “defund the police” as protests spread to every major city in the United States and around the world. Alongside some protests, though, there were also acts of violence and destruction in many cities.
In the wake of Wright’s death, the city of Brooklyn Center has been put under a 7 p.m. curfew, though many people have defied the curfew to protest, resulting in clashes with the police and multiple arrests. In addition to the confrontations between protesters and the police, there were reports of looting and property damage.
Yet another police killing occurring while a former officer is on trial for murder has only further exacerbated the conflict between law enforcement and the Black community. That is especially the case as much of Chauvin’s defense in the trial is focused on arguing that Floyd died of drugs and related health issues, not strangulation, as an autopsy had determined.
How did Daunte Wright die?
As has been the case with other police killings of African Americans, including Floyd and Breonna Taylor in March 2020, the death of Daunte Wright has already resulted in the spread of misinformation and unverified assertions.
What is known is that Wright was driving on Sunday evening when he was pulled over for a traffic violation. According to the police, he was pulled over because the tags on his license plate had expired. Furthermore, after he was pulled over, officers noticed he had an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, which is prohibited by Minnesota law.
During the stop, officers determined there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest. The warrant was for a “gross misdemeanor,” which is a crime more serious than a regular misdemeanor, but less serious than a felony. The warrant had been issued after Wright missed a court date following charges for carrying a gun without a permit and running from a police officer.
As police officers attempted to arrest Wright during the stop, he returned to his car in an apparent attempt to escape. That was when one officer, identified as Kim Potter, pulled her gun and shot Wright one time. Following the shot, Wright’s car drove away before striking another car a few blocks away. When medical workers reached Wright’s car, they pronounced him dead at the scene.
Wright had a one-year-old son, Duane Wright, Jr.
Mistaking a gun for a taser
On April 12, the day after Wright’s death, Brooklyn Center Police released bodycam footage of the confrontation. The footage is from the bodycam of Potter, the officer who shot Wright.
In a press conference on Monday, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon explained that Potter had mistakenly drawn her handgun instead of her taser. In the bodycam footage, Potter can be heard repeatedly yelling “Taser” before firing one shot into Wright. After firing, she is heard yelling an expletive (it is censored in the video), then exclaiming “I shot him.” The car then drives off.
“We train with our handguns on our dominant side and our taser on our weak side,” Gannon explained during the press conference. That would mean that a right-handed person would have their gun on their right side and the taser on the left. Despite this training, Gannon said, he believes Wright’s shooting was an accident.
“It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their taser,” Gannon said, “but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet. This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officer’s reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
Potter is a 26-year veteran of the police force and the head of the Brooklyn Center Police Union.
Reactions to Daunte Wright’s death
In addition to protests and clashes with the police in Brooklyn Center, the police killing of Daunte Wright has led to outrage beyond Minneapolis. Reactions have ranged from anger to bitter frustration, with many people calling for Potter to be fired, possibly even charged with murder.
Many people have expressed skepticism at the idea that a veteran police officer would have mistaken her handgun for a taser.
As the Dallas-based writer Mike Taddow noted on Twitter, in recent years there have been multiple examples of a police officer mistaking their gun for a taser, which has resulted in injury or death, including in Oklahoma in 2015, Kansas in 2018 and Pennsylvania in 2019.
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