The Death of Daunte Wright
Updated: Jan 13
A memorial for Daunte Wright at the George Floyd Square, an ongoing center of demonstrations and memorials in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Lorie Shaull/Flickr)
Last year, the death of George Floyd caused surges of protests, as communities and people all across the nation came together to demand justice, systemic change, and an end to police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement mobilized many African-Americans and people of color to use their collective voices and power to stand up for themselves. Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd appeased many BLM supporters with a slight victory, but another case has arisen of another black man who was killed by law enforcement.
Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old African-American, was fatally shot by a police officer at a Minnesota suburb on April 11, 2021. Wright was pulled over for a traffic violation, supposedly having air fresheners hanging off of his side mirrors. The officers then discovered he had outstanding charges of having missed court dates, resisted arrest in the past, and having expired tags. One officer had a body camera attached to them at the time, and it seemed as if Wright was trying to get back into the vehicle as the officers were still trying to detain him. Officer Kim Potter, a veteran in law enforcement, was heard shouting “Taser!” in the video, and then seen shooting Wright. Captured on the video as well, he was seen struggling to get back into his vehicle.
As Wright drove down the road several minutes later, he crashed into another vehicle and died on the scene. It was then discovered that officer Kim Potter, the officer who had called “taser,” had actually shot Wright with her gun. When Wright’s community and family heard of his death, they were devastated. Many residents rallied outside the Brooklyn Center police station just hours after the incident. A curfew has been enacted for the Twin Cities area according to a CNN report, but the protesters have not backed down and many have broken the curfew since. Videos show protesters throwing fireworks at the officers trying to control the situation, and the officers fired back with flash bombs. The mayor of Brooklyn Center, Mike Elliot, shared a heartfelt message about Wright’s death ― “I share our community’s anger and sadness and shock” ― but also warned the city that their “voices have been heard, now the eyes of the world are watching Brooklyn Center and I urge you to protest peacefully and without violence.” This warning was soon followed with the Minnesota National Guard being deployed in the Twin Cities area, according to a tweet from Operation Safety Net.
Kim Potter, the officer who shot Wright, has already resigned and was charged with second degree manslaughter, punishable up to a maximum of 10 years in prison. She was soon arrested, but then released on a $100,000 bond. As with the death of George Floyd along with the many other instances of police brutality, Wright’s death has been subject to extensive debate. Law professor Rachel Moran said that even if Potter was to actually use her taser that it would be “the wrong decision when you’re just trying to stop someone accused of a very low-level offense.” Others believe she did not mean to shoot him; as heard in the video, Potter seems frantic after Wright drives away, saying “holy s**t! I just shot him!” In light of this, her charges may be considered reactionary, considering she may not have had malicious intentions. Still others assert that Potter’s actions were reasonable since Wright was not complying with the officers ― Wright was seen trying to rush into his vehicle while cops were still searching his body, making him more prone to an incident with the cops. Moran also added, “And so there could be an argument that even that decision showed a reckless disregard for life and coupled with whatever confusion she had that resulted in her using a gun instead of a Taser, could rise to the level of indifference to human life. But it's not clear cut.” There is no simple consensus on the justice of the case or the validity of the charges brought against Potter.
While this battle of opinions continues, Wright’s death and the ensuing protests have resulted in social change. Mayor Elliott has started to review the approach of policing in his city. Included in this revised policy will be new laws about traffic enforcement and rerouting emergency calls. In the case of Derek Chauvin, many politicians, celebrities, and racial movements have celebrated his conviction. The death of Daunte Wright and the continuance of the Black Lives Matter remains controversial in the political dialogue of the U.S., as the nation continues to grapple over matters of racial discrimination, police reform, and social justice.
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