Minnesota Cops Shoot 20-Year-Old Black Man At Traffic Stop. We’re So Tired Of This Sh*t.
Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, died Sunday after a police officer shot him at a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb. The story is depressingly familiar. The cops pulled Wright over for an apparent traffic violation. They discovered he had an outstanding warrant. When Wright reportedly re-entered his car, an officer shot him, sending his car on a brief trip for several blocks, with his girlfriend inside, before it struck another vehicle. Wright died at the scene, but his girlfriend and the other car's passengers didn't suffer life-threatening injuries. That's mostly thanks to dumb luck. Shooting into a car with other people in it doesn't make a lot of sense, but we admittedly never graduated from police academy.
Wright's mother, Katie, said he called her as the cops were pulling him over. He was probably afraid for his life, and not without good reason. Caron Nazario, a lieutenant in the US Army, was also terrified when Virginia police pulled him over in December for a minor traffic violation. Nazario was brutally attacked, but he at least survived, unlike Philando Castile, who was fatally shot at a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Wright reportedly told his mother the cops pulled him over because "he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror." If you have an outstanding warrant, you might want to avoid speeding or illegal U-turns, but you never imagine you'd get stopped because you want to maintain your car's minty freshness. Well, if you're Black, it won't surprise you. We get stopped for all sorts of BS reasons.
Chief Tim Gannon of the Brooklyn Center Police Department offered no reasonable explanation for why this traffic stop went bad, but that shouldn't bother Fox News viewers. Daunte Wright had an outstanding warrant, which makes him a criminal, and that justifies any police action taken against him, including his summary execution. At least that's how we expect coverage of this will go. Driving around with an air freshener in the wrong place is a far more serious offense if you're Black than violently storming the US Capitol if you're white.
The police often use routine traffic stops as a pretext for sidestepping due process. Here's how a local police chief reportedly explained the process to author Charles Marohn:
He instructed his officers to be very aggressive in pulling people over. He told me they would look for any reason they could to make a stop and then use that interaction as a stepping stone, of sorts, to fish for bigger things. Person sounded a little strange? Get them out of the car for a intoxication test. Run their license and check for warrants. Pry around and see if you smell pot (or something like it).
He bragged that they had nailed a lot of really bad people this way, individuals who had warrants or other red flags on their records. Often they would be able to seize the vehicle or other property and sell that at auction, the proceeds of which they got to keep in the department in a process I still don't fully understand.
Wright was shot not far from where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is standing trial for killing George Floyd. Conservatives have latched onto the minor offense Floyd was accused of committing as justification for his brutal death. Minnesota doesn't actually have the death penalty, but that's only if you're tried and convicted in a courtroom. The police can apparently put you to death for allegedly passing counterfeit bills or violating air freshener protocols.
The pattern after these police killings is familiar and depressing. Rightfully angry and frustrated citizens take to the streets. They clash with the police. The protests turn violent, often at law enforcement's instigation. Republicans benefit at the polls.
From the New York Times:
Outside of the Brooklyn Center Police Department on Sunday night, smoke billowed into the air as a line of police officers fired rubber bullets and chemical agents at protesters, some of whom lobbed rocks, bags of garbage and water bottles at the police. Brooklyn Center's mayor ordered a curfew until 6 a.m., and the local school superintendent said the district would move to remote learning on Monday "out of an abundance of caution."
This sounds like an occupied nation.
Chief Gannon confirmed that the officers involved had their body cameras turned on, so we'll probably see video at some point of 20-year-old Daunte Wright stepping back into his car. That was his fatal “error." Maybe the cop thought he was reaching for a gun or a knife or was just going to flee the scene. Regardless, an internal investigation will likely conclude that Wright's life didn't matter, and that's why we'll keep marching and kneeling until the police accept that our lives do matter, at least as much as theirs.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."