At 2:00 pm on Sunday, April 11, police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center pulled over Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, for a “traffic violation.” Speaking through tears, Daunte Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, told reporters that Daunte called her when he was pulled over and said he was being stopped for having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror. She heard noises in the background. She heard police yelling at Daunte and telling him to put down the phone. Then the call ended. When she called Daunte back, the woman who was with him told her Daunte was dead in his car, a few blocks away after being shot by police.
Katie Wright said about Daunte, "He had a 2-year-old son that's not going to be able to play basketball with him. He had sisters and brothers that he loved so much. He just had his whole life taken away from him. We had our hearts pulled out of our chests. He was my baby."
The official story of what actually happened is contradictory, obfuscated, changes hour to hour, and cannot be taken as fact. Police have provided different reasons for pulling over Daunte’s car, including an expired registration, which—if true—should have been a ticket at most, not a death sentence.
The day after Daunte Wright’s murder, the Brooklyn Center police chief held a press conference and claimed the killing was an “accident.” He played bodycam footage that shows cops telling Daunte he has a warrant. On the video, one cop approaches Daunte with her gun drawn and pointed at Daunte. She yells, “I'll tase you! I'll tase you! Taser, Taser, Taser!” An instant later, she shoots Daunte with her gun at point blank range. She then appears to yell, “Holy shit, I just shot him.”
The following day, the cop who murdered Daunte resigned from the police force, saying, "I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately." The police chief who insisted Daunte’s death was just an “accident” resigned as well.
An accident? The video clip selected by the police chief shows cops in what was supposedly a traffic violation stop acting like they were in war-fighting mode.
And about that traffic violation: Again, police and the media have reported contradictory and uncredible explanations for why Daunte Wright was stopped—including distortions of his previous engagement with police that would not be relevant even if true. The Minnesota ACLU released a statement expressing “deep concerns that police here appear to have used dangling air fresheners as an excuse for making a pretextual [an excuse that isn’t really why something is done] stop, something police do all too often to target Black people.”
The cop who killed Daunte Wright was described by the police chief as a “very senior” member of the force. Her taser is yellow, her gun is … a gun. Yet, like the cop who killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland, California transit station in 2009, we are told she couldn’t tell her gun from a Taser.
But what if it does turn out to be the case that this trigger-happy cop was so reckless, had so little regard for a young Black man’s life, and had been so programmed to see Daunte Wright as less than human, that after a “pretextual” stop, she shot and killed him when she was “only” intending to terrorize, brutalize and torture him with a Taser? What would that prove except that to this system, the dignity and life of a Black person is worth less than that of a dog?
Daunte Wright was killed in a country where all young Black people have targets on their backs in the eyes of the police, just miles from where the pig who lynched George Floyd is on trial. In Minneapolis Black people are 20% of the population, but 68% of the time Minneapolis police draw a gun on someone, it is a Black person. And when police kill Black people again and again and again and get away with it, that is no “accident.” That is a system that can’t be reformed but must be overthrown.