As darkness fell outside police headquarters in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, hundreds of demonstrators braved a heavy downpour and defied a curfew imposed by Governor Tim Walz.
Many of the protesters had come from an outside vigil for the slain motorist, Daunte Wright, 20, whose death on Sunday after being pulled over for an expired car registration roiled an already tense area.
Wright was murdered about 10 miles from the courthouse where a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been on trial for the past two weeks on murder charges in the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, who was arrested last May.
Floyd’s death, caught on cellphone camera by an onlooker and showing his neck pinned under Chauvin’s leg, sparked months of mass demonstrations and civil unrest over social inequality in the United States and police brutality in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
During Monday’s memorial service at the site of Wright’s death, relatives recalled him as a good-natured father who worked several jobs to help his 2-year-old son, and they denied the idea that his death was the result of an unintentional shooting.
“My brother lost his life because they were trigger happy,” his older half sibling, Dallas Wright, told the crowd as rain began to fall.
“My heart is broken in a thousand pieces… I miss him so much, and it’s only been a day,” his mother, Katie Wright, said as she wept. “He was my life, he was my son and I can never get that back. Because of a mistake? Because of an accident?”
Sunday’s shooting immediately sparked a night of street skirmishes between police and protesters in Brooklyn Center. Local news media reported looting and burglaries of about 20 businesses at a nearby shopping center.
On Monday, Walz issued a dusk-to-dawn curfew for the greater Twin Cities area around Minneapolis and St. Paul, but protests erupted again after the vigil as the curfew went into effect.
A crowd pressed up against a makeshift barrier erected to hold demonstrators at bay, with some hurling bottles and other debris as police responded with tear gas and what appeared to be non-lethal plastic bullets.
Mayor Mike Elliott of Brooklyn Center said police were given instructions to evacuate the crowd.
“I’m calling and asking for people to go home,” Mayor Mike Elliott said on CNN as the turmoil unfolded.
‘I JUST SHOT HIM’
Police Chief Tim Gannon told a news briefing earlier in the day that a routine traffic stop of Wright had escalated into a deadly confrontation when officers ran a check on his expired vehicle registration and found an outstanding warrant for him.
Police video footage presented at the briefing showed an officer trying to handcuff Wright next to the car, before Wright broke free and got back inside his car. At that point, a second officer yells, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” before firing a single shot from her handgun, the video shows.
“Holy shit, I just shot him,” the policewoman is heard to shout as the car rolls away with Wright still in the driver’s seat. The car traveled several blocks before striking another vehicle and coming to a stop.
Gannon said the investigation was in its early stages, but the shooting seemed to be unintentional.
“This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officers’ reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright,” he said.
The Hennepin County medical examiner confirmed in its autopsy that Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest and called the manner of death a homicide.
The officer who shot Wright was placed on administrative leave, though Mayor Elliott called for her to be dismissed. She was later identified as Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center department.
Hours after the police chief’s briefing, Elliott said the city council had approved a motion to shift control over the police department to his office, saying on Twitter the move “would streamline things and establish a chain of command and leadership.”
The killing in Brooklyn Center, like many other high-profile deadly police killings of Black men in recent months, began with the kind of traffic stop that civil rights groups argue is often used by law enforcement as a means of targeting of minority motorists.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, 54 percent of drivers stopped for minor equipment violations in Minneapolis between January and September of 2018 were Black, despite the fact that African Americans make up just 19 percent of the city’s population.
Ben Crump, the attorney who helped win a $27 million civil settlement for the Floyd family from the city of Minneapolis, said he was also representing the Wrights.
“Daunte Wright is yet another young Black man killed at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve all of us – not just the whitest among us,” Crump said in a statement.
Wright’s mother told reporters on Sunday that she got a call from her son informing her that police had pulled him over for getting air fresheners hanging from his rear-view mirror, which is against Minnesota law. She said she could hear officers telling him to get out of the car.
When police pulled Wright over, they spotted “a hanging item from the rear-view mirror,” according to Gannon.
Aubrey Wright, Wright’s father, told the Washington Post that his son dropped out of high school a few years ago due to a learning disability and had been working different jobs to support his young son.