DFL lawmakers promise change; families of George Floyd and Daunte Wright demand justice

By: and - April 13, 2021 3:24 pm

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump stands with the family of Daunte Wright, George Floyd and other victims of police violence at a news conference outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on April 13, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota began dealing with the aftermath of the police killing of Daunte Wright Tuesday, as lawmakers at the State Capitol called for accountability and reform, while the families of Minnesotans killed by police demanded justice.

Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump said Wright’s family will get justice for the 20-year-old Black man shot by police during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center on Sunday.

At a news conference on Tuesday outside the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis where the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin continued, the families of George Floyd and other victims of police violence joined the Wright family to call for justice for Daunte Wright and accountability for the officer who killed him.

“It is unbelievable that in … a suburb 10 miles from where the Chauvin trial regarding George Floyd was taking place, that a police officer would shoot and kill another unarmed Black man,” Crump said.

After another night of clashes between demonstrators and police and sporadic looting, metro cities are planning another night of curfews, including 10 p.m. in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Minnesota is likely to see a now familiar cycle of grief and anger, followed by introspection and finally political argument that may or — just as likely — may not bring lasting change to a state racked by some of the worst racial inequities in the nation.

State Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, and other fellow Democratic-Farmer-Labor colleagues have called on state budget negotiations to halt until new police accountability and reform measures are adopted.

Daunte Wright’s aunt, Aubrey Wright, called for the officer who shot and killed her nephew to be prosecuted for murder during a news conference in Minneapolis on April 13, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

“The reason we have to say Black lives matter is because they certainly don’t appear to matter enough to GOP leaders in the Senate to hear a single bill that will protect Black lives,” Frazier said.

It’s unclear if new measures will pass in the current legislative session, currently slated to end May 17. Lawmakers are also debating a new two-year budget, which has to be approved by June 30 or risk a partial government shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said at a news conference the upper chamber would hold hearings but new laws are not guaranteed.

“I’m not promising that we’re going to do more reform,” he said. “I’m promising to listen if something is warranted.”

DFL state legislators are calling for at least four measures to be passed into law, including allowing local governments to establish civilian oversight councils; banning the alteration, erasure or destruction of body-worn camera recordings or footage; prohibiting peace officers from affiliating with white supremacist groups; and providing funding for community organizations working to prevent crime.

Given their close alliance with the police lobby and Republican base’s affinity for law enforcement, it’s not clear if any legislation can pass.

In the meantime, Wright’s family awaits a decision about whether Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter, who resigned Tuesday, will be charged.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who is the chief prosecutor of felonies in Brooklyn Center, released a statement saying any charging decision on the case would be made by the Washington County attorney.

That’s in accordance with a 2020 decision by five urban county attorneys that they would refer police shootings to a different county attorney or the state attorney general to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest. Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said Tuesday he wants Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to take the case.

A spokesman for Gov. Tim Walz, however, said Ellison was focused on the Chauvin trial.

“This case is in the hands of the Washington County attorney, and we expect him to move quickly,” spokesman Teddy Tschann wrote in a statement.

The family called for the officer to be prosecuted.

“Prosecute like they would prosecute us,” Daunte Wright’s aunt Aubrey Wright said. “We want justice.”

The Wright family attorney Crump represented the Floyd family in their civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, winning an unprecedented $27 million settlement last month.

On Monday, Brooklyn Center officials said Wright was stopped for expired tabs and officers were going to take him into custody for an outstanding warrant.

Wright’s mother Katie spoke about how her son called her after being pulled over. She said she asked Daunte to give the phone over to the police officers so that she could give them the insurance information. Officers then asked Wright to step out of the car. Katie Wright said she heard a commotion before the call ended. Then the woman who was riding with Daunte called Katie and said he had been shot.

Daunte Wright’s mom Katie Wright (center) speaks with the relatives of other men killed by police before a news conference in downtown Minneapolis on April 13, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

“She pointed the phone toward the driver’s seat and my son was laying there, responsive. That was the last time I seen my son. That’s the last time I heard from my son, and I have had no explanation,” Katie Wright said.

Brooklyn Center released body camera footage that shows Wright pull away from an officer and sit back in the driver’s seat. Potter then yells “taser” three times before firing her service weapon apparently mistaking it for her taser. Wright’s car then sped off before crashing where Wright was found dead.

The explanation that Potter accidentally shot Wright did not satisfy family members and activists, who questioned how a 26-year-veteran could mistake a gun for a taser.

Instances of officers mistaking a gun for a taser are rare, but not unheard of, according to a Tuesday report in the New York Times. 

“That woman held that gun out in front of her for a long damn time,” Aubrey Wright said.

Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte Wright’s one-year-old son, lamented that her child would grow up without a father.

“They stole my son’s dad from him,” Whitaker said.

Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, implied in remarks Tuesday that Wright could have prevented the incident: “We as individuals, when we get pulled over for whatever reason, I think being respectful goes a long way,” he said.

Crump rejected any claim of culpability on Wright. “Daunte was trying to get away. He was not a threat to them. Was it the best decision? No. But young people don’t always make the best decisions,” Crump said.

Philonise Floyd, who testified in the trial of the officer who knelt on his brother’s neck the day before, said his family would support the Wright family as they seek justice.

“Daunte Wright should still be here,” Philonise Floyd said. “Minneapolis, you all can’t sweep this under the rug anymore. We will fight for justice for this family just like we’re fighting for our brother.

Crump has not yet announced a civil lawsuit against the city of Brooklyn Center.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.