BROOKLYN CENTER, Minnesota – Civil unrest gripped a Minneapolis suburb for a second night on Monday after the city’s police chief said a fatal police shooting of a young Black man appeared to result from an officer mistakenly opening fire with her gun instead of a Taser during a traffic stop.
Hundreds of protesters braving a steady downpour and defying a curfew ordered by Gov. Tim Walz clashed with police in riot gear as darkness fell outside police headquarters in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
Many of the demonstrators had arrived from an outdoor vigil for family, friends and supporters of the slain motorist, Daunte Wright, 20, whose death Sunday after being pulled over for an expired vehicle registration roiled a region already on edge.
Wright was killed just 10 miles from the courthouse where a former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, has stood trial over the past two weeks on murder charges in the deadly arrest last May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.
Floyd’s death, captured by an onlooker’s cellphone video showing his neck pinned under Chauvin’s knee, unleashed months of nationwide protests and civil strife over U.S. racial injustice and police violence in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During Monday’s memorial gathering at the spot where Wright was killed, relatives remembered him as a good-natured father who worked multiple jobs to support his 2-year-old son, and they rejected the notion that an accidental shooting was to blame for his death.
“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 ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew for the greater Twin Cities area around Minneapolis and St. Paul, but disturbances flared anew following the vigil as the curfew went into effect.
A crowd outside police headquarters surged against a makeshift fence erected to keep protesters at bay, some hurling bottles and other projectiles as police responded by firing volleys of tear gas and what appeared to be non-lethal plastic rounds.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said police had orders to disperse the crowd.
“I’m calling and asking for people to go home,” Mayor Mike Elliott said on CNN as the turmoil unfolded.
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, another 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 several other recent high-profile fatal police shootings of Black men, originated with the kind of traffic stop that civil rights activists say has often been used by law enforcement as a form of harassment of minority motorists.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota cited a public defenders finding that 54% of drivers stopped for minor equipment violations between January and September in 2018 in Minneapolis were Black, though African Americans represent just 19% 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 she had received a call from her son telling her police had pulled him over for having air fresheners dangling from his rear-view mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota. She could hear police tell him to get out of the vehicle, she said.
Gannon said “a hanging item from the rear-view mirror” was discovered when police pulled Wright over.
Wright’s father, Aubrey, told the Washington Post his son had dropped out of high school a few years earlier due to a learning disability, and had been working various jobs to help support his young son.
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