Fourteen miles from where George Floyd died in Minneapolis after being pinned by an officer for nearly ten minutes, a 20-year-old black man was fatally shot by an officer for a traffic violation. Sunday afternoon Daunte Wright was driving to a car wash with his girlfriend and was pulled over by officer Kimberly Potter for driving with an expired license plate and for having an air freshener hanging on his rear-view mirror. The officers later discovered that there was a “gross misdemeanor warrant” for his arrest. Minutes later, gunshots rang out, and Wright’s body was left on the streets of the Minneapolis suburb for six hours.
Hours later, protestors chanted, throwing bricks and cans at officers outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, angered by the death of another black man. The police declared the gathering unlawful and tried to repel the crowd with tear gas and flash-bang grenades. The protests continued into Monday morning and resumed that night.
“He [Daunte] was a great kid,” Aubrey Wright, his father, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “He was a normal kid. He was never in serious trouble. He enjoyed spending time with his two-year-old son. He loved his son.” Daunte worked retail and restaurant jobs to support his two-year-old son. He dropped out of high school because of his learning disability, but he planned to return to school to receive his GED.
Police Chief Tim Gannon said officer Potter, a 26-year veteran of the department, expected to fire her Taser but instead had an “accidental discharge” from her gun. He also played an unedited clip of the body camera video where officer Potter yells, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” shooting Dante with her firearm and then exclaiming, “Holy sh-t. I just shot him.” Officer Kimberly Potter and Chief Gannon have resigned after the second night of protests in Minneapolis.
In their first press conference this Tuesday, his parents expressed grief and anger for their son outside the Hennepin County Courthouse, where the trial of fired officer Derek Chauvin is closing. They called for action, questioning why the officer used force after a traffic violation. Katie Wright, his mother, breaking into tears, said, “I never imagined that this would have happened.” She recounted her last phone call with her son after officer Potter pulled him over, “That was the last time I’ve heard from my son. And I’ve had no explanation since then.”
The fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by police has drawn comparisons to the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. 22-year-old Grant was shot and killed by transit police officer Johannes Mehserle
while being pinned to the ground. Attorneys for Mehserle similarly said the officer had mistaken his handgun for his Taser gun. He was found not guilty on charges of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter and convicted of involuntary manslaughter, serving 11 months in prison.
“Daunte Wright is another Oscar Grant,” an uncle of Mr. Grant, Cephus Johnson, tweeted Monday. “We have seen this before and know exactly how it will play out.”
An investigation is underway. President Joe Biden has called for “peace and calm” Monday in the wake of the tragic shooting. He said to reporters in the Oval Office, “The question is, was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation.”
A thorough investigation is necessary to understand the events that led to Daunte Wright’s death. How can a veteran officer of 26- years can mistake her 34-ounce firearm for her 8-ounce Taser?
Axon, the company behind Taser energy weapons, said the devices have a different grip and are lighter than firearms. In a statement, an Axon spokesperson said that the Tasers are offered in yellow to differentiate them from guns. Regardless of whether or not Potter “accidentally” killed Wright using her firearm rather than her Taser, it follows a pattern of police unnecessarily shooting black civilians when they resist arrest or are in their cars.
Her “accident” cost Daunte Wright his life and cannot be repeated. Reform is needed— justice is needed for Daunte’s mother, two-year-old son, and Black Minnesotans and Americans. Police seek to create safety by identifying who is dangerous and then reacting with violence. As long as there is no reform, police will be one second away from assaulting or killing a civilian who is viewed as a threat.
Officer Potter viewed 20-year-old Daunte Wright as a threat, not because of his “gross misdemeanor warrant” but because he was Black. Her actions were unnecessarily devastating and deprived a Daunte Wright of a long life with his loved ones.