MINNEAPOLIS—With the conviction of former city cop Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, attention turns to the fatal police shooting of a young Black father by a White female cop. The unarmed 20-year-old was killed in a Minnesota suburb 10 minutes from the courthouse where the Chauvin verdict was rendered.
The family of Daunte Wright, whose killer is charged with manslaughter, wants tougher charges filed against 26-year veteran officer Kim Potter. She says she mistakenly pulled her service revolver but meant to pull a Taser during what should have been a routine traffic stop. The killing, 11 days before the Chauvin conviction, sparked outrage, disgust, tear gas, clashes and ratcheted up tension at a volatile time. Daunte died in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minn.
His death brought Black America, again, face to face with constant threats to life in minor encounters with police officers and reminders of rare moments of police accountability.
“My son should be burying me,” said Katie Wright through tears at Daunte’s April 22 homegoing service. He lit up the room, said Katie Wright as she described her son as a jokester. She told the audience that the birth of Daunte’s son “was the joy of his life.”
“Words can’t explain how I feel,” said Daunte’s distraught father Aubrey Wright.
Hundreds of mourners, including family, friends, community, activists, families who have lost loved ones to police violence, and the national press, packed Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis as yet another victim of police violence was laid to rest. Relatives of Daunte Wright numbered in the dozens as they filed quietly into the sanctuary. His grieving mother is White and his distraught father is Black, they clung to one another during the service.
Minneapolis had just briefly celebrated the April 20 conviction of former officer Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. Lending support to the Wright family were relatives of others killed by police and White violence, including relatives of Emmett Till, whose brutal slaying in 1955 helped birth the modern civil rights movement, George Floyd, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Kobe Dimock- Heisler, Justin Teigen, Hardel Sherrell, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner as well as Cephus Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant. Mr. Grant was killed on January 1, 2009, as a result of a law enforcement officer supposedly mistaking a Taser for a gun.
The homegoing service was as spirited as one would expect from a Black church.
“Oh, freedom, Oh, freedom, Oh freedom over me. And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free,” began the soloist. The words filled the cavern-like worship center and set the tone for a mournful yet defiant service.
“We come to bury the prince of Brooklyn Center. Daunte Wright is a prince. All of Minneapolis has stopped today to honor our prince,” said Rev. Al Sharpton. Rev. Sharpton acknowledged the families of victims of police violence and thanked them and local activists for their efforts in getting justice for Mr. Floyd and their efforts to get justice for Daunte.
In his eulogy, Rev. Sharpton reminded folks that they couldn’t read the Bible and not understand that God is on the side of the oppressed. “God has turned the page in the state of Minnesota, and we are not going back,” he said.
“We come today as the air fresheners for Minnesota,” said Rev. Sharpton riffing on the fact that Daunte was told initially that he was pulled over for having an air freshener in his rearview mirror. “We’re trying to get the stench of police brutality out of the atmosphere. We’re trying to get the stench of racism out of the atmosphere. We’re trying to get the stench of racial profiling out of the atmosphere. Your air is too odorous for us to breathe. We can’t breathe in your stinking air no more,” he said.
Rev. Sharpton said he is often questioned about the nature of protests and if they are going to be nonviolent. “When are you gonna tell policemen to stop being violent?” he asked.
Many elected officials attended the funeral, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) who read a proclamation.
Sen. Klobuchar’s presence and words denouncing police violence, racial profiling, and racism struck a sour note with some in attendance.
Ms. Klobuchar had come under fire during her presidential run last year when it was revealed that during her time as Hennepin County Attorney, her prosecution of Myon Burrell in the shooting death of 11-year-old Tyesha Edwards may have been a mistake at best and a frame-up at worst.
A proclamation was read by Rep. Omar on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus. Wiping away tears at times, the outspoken Somali-American lawmaker presented Daunte’s mother and father with a flag that had flown in a half-staff tribute to Daunte at the U.S. Capitol. Gov. Tim Walz, who called for a statewide moment of silence in honor of Wright from 12:00 to 12:02 pm, also spoke and presented the grieving parents with a proclamation.
“Our heart is broken with yours as we come to lay him to rest,” said civil rights attorney Ben Crump addressing Daunte’s parents. “But, most importantly, we celebrate his life. Daunte Wright’s life mattered.”
Tearfully other family members, a beloved uncle and Daunte’s siblings tried to share their thoughts, but their pain was evident. His young sister shared how she never had the opportunity to tell him she loved him before his death.
Rev. Sharpton, who vowed to visit Ohio, Texas, North Carolina where Blacks had been killed by cops even with the Nation’s attention trained on the trial of George Floyd’s killer and Daunte’s death.
“Sadly this is exactly what happened to Oscar when Johannes Mehserle, claimed he erred when he pulled his weapon instead of his Taser. So here we are again, we understand the story, we already know the legal revocations are going to be and the tactics that the defense attorney is going to use,” Cephus “Uncle Bobby” X Johnson told The Final Call after the funeral service.
“So we are here to support the family and stand with them,” he said.
A visit to Brooklyn Center
The community where Daunte Wright was killed was a predominately Jewish community prior to the 1990s, said local activists. African immigrants and many Blacks migrated to Brooklyn Center and other areas after a 1995 class action federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department and Housing and Urban Development, Hollman v. Cisneros, found poor, mostly non-White families had been wrongly concentrated in the Near North community in Minneapolis.
Hundreds of public housing units were eventually demolished and the Heritage Park development was built in 2000, said locals.
While many stayed in Near North community, others were displaced, moved out of the neighborhood and often into nearby suburbs, notably Brooklyn Center.
It was in Brooklyn Center, Minn., where protests were held and where huge numbers of National Guardsmen, Brooklyn Center cops and officers from other jurisdictions were brought in. Clashes at times brought arrests, tear gas, bottle throwing, confrontations and demands for changes in policing and justice for Daunte.
Activist Spike Moss, who is based in Minneapolis, has a long history of involvement in the Black fight for justice and advocating for young people. His fight against racism and White supremacy in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and sister city St. Paul, have spanned five decades.
“I’ve been out here fighting ever since I saw the police beat that 14-year-old girl with those night sticks,” he told a Final Call reporter during a visit to Brooklyn Center the day after Daunte’s funeral.
“We have never stopped fighting. We physically fought the police 56 years ago,” he added.
During the visit to Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo met with members of the community. His testimony and testimony from other officers on his force condemning Derek Chauvin’s actions helped lead to the rare police conviction.
“Do I have the permission of my elders to speak?” asked the Black police chief. He rose through the ranks to lead his department. He expressed appreciation for community support and leaders that gave him a foundation.
“My stand during the trial was the right thing to do and it was not about me at all, it’s about all of us. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for men like Spike Moss, who have been on the front line a long time,” said Chief Arradondo.
Alvin Watkins, 41, shared his thoughts on what’s happening with youth in the streets. He feels a sense of obligation to reach back to the community he helped to destroy when he was a young man.
“The youth feel like they are by themselves; no one wants to deal with them. Not even our own community,” he said. “The White folks are scared of them and some of our own community are scared of them. Their grandmas and grandpas are more scared of them than the community and the police. But, at the same time their voices matter, and they also play a big part,” he said.
How do youth feel about how law enforcement treats them? “The treatment is unfair, they’ve watched what happened with their uncles, grandfathers, and now they’re going through the same thing. So they don’t trust the police, just as much as none of us do,” he said. “They are younger and they’re not scared, and they are willing to die for anything right now.”
In conversations with others who have been in the streets, The Final Call was able to hear from a group of Black men, the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, many also influenced by Mr. Moss, who want justice and who want to protect and build the Black community. They are an armed patrol.
Jamil Jackson of the Freedom Fighters said the group was organized last year during unrest after the murder of George Floyd.
After seeing the destruction of buildings in South Minneapolis, the group was formed, he said. He and some friends initially joined forces to avoid destruction where they live in North Minneapolis. They were on-scene in the city and during protests in Brooklyn Center.
“There were a lot of outside agitators coming in to create havoc and leave us with the mess to clean up. Part of our existence is to make sure that our communities stay safe and that we are protected outside and inside,” he explained.
“We continue to meet and grow as men and we understood that there was a bigger purpose. The purpose of showmanship, the purpose of our community seeing Black men with guns in a positive and professional light. Me as the commander of the Freedom Fighters, I make sure these men stand up in that light and be examples of what it is to not just be a Freedom Fighter, but a Black man in our community so the youth can follow that lead,” he shared. “Ultimately, our goal is to be nationwide, to go help other communities that are in need of police reform and community activism to be able to show them how we did it and how they can do it for themselves.”
Secundus Ray, project manager for Push for Peace, said of his organization’s mission is to create an outlet for the Black community to speak in a peaceful manner. “We seek peace by basically helping to neutralize a situation before it gets out of hand,” he explained. “We just want to prevent unnecessary destruction, whether it’s physical property or us tearing down ourselves. The infighting and all of the bulls–t that comes along with us being frustrated and having a need to express ourselves.”
Mr. Ray continued, “Our objective extends far beyond George Floyd or even the young brother Daunte Wright that just passed away. We’ve been having this issue in the community for years. The most important thing we stand on is accountability and responsibility. We have to take accountability for our own action and be responsible for our brothers. So if we are holding each other accountable for our action and being responsible for ourselves it changes the dynamic in the community. So that’s the spirit we come with,” he said.
Pastor Jerry McAfee of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church hosted the gathering of community leaders with Chief Arradondo. “We’ve got to stop looking on the outside for somebody to help us and come save us. Hell, we’ve got the impetus and the might to save ourselves,” he argued.
“We’ve got to create a synergy within our homes and community. Because to ask your oppressor to free you is not going to happen. They have done a masterful job showing us how to mistrust each other and as a consequence we’re suffering greatly.”
The pastor added, “I only know who I am through the lens of God and not through lens of White supremacy and racism. So, when I look at you, and I’ve been taught everything that looks like me I see no value, then I see no value in you. But if I understand when God made me, He put His handprint on me and that my skin color is not a deficit, it’s an asset. And then I’ll start treating my brother differently.”
(The Black-owned Minneapolis Spokesman-Recorder contributed to this report.)