BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — A 20-year-old Black man died after a police officer shot him during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday, sending hundreds of people into the streets where they clashed with police officers into Monday morning.
The protests in Brooklyn Center came hours before the 11th day of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with murdering George Floyd, was set to begin in a courtroom less than 10 miles away.
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.”
A woman who said she was the victim’s mother identified him as Daunte Wright, 20.
The shooting injected more frustration and anxiety into the Twin Cities region, where Floyd’s death and the destructive protests that followed are fresh on residents’ minds as they await a verdict in the Chauvin trial.
Chief Tim Gannon of the Brooklyn Center Police Department said an officer had shot the man on Sunday afternoon after pulling his car over for a traffic violation and discovering that the driver had a warrant out for his arrest. As the police tried to detain the man, he stepped back into his car, at which point an officer shot him, Gannon said.
The man’s car then traveled for several blocks and struck another vehicle, after which the police and medical workers pronounced him dead. Gannon did not give any information on the officer who fired or say how severe the crash had been, though the passengers in the other car were not injured. The chief said he believed that officers’ body cameras had been turned on during the shooting.
Katie Wright, the woman who said she was Wright’s mother, told reporters that her son had been driving a car that his family had just given him two weeks ago and that he had called her as he was being pulled over.
“He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror,” she said. Wright added that her son had been driving with his girlfriend when he was shot. The police said a woman in the car had been hurt in the crash but that her injuries were not life-threatening.
John Harrington, the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said the unrest that followed Wright’s death had spread to a mall in Brooklyn Center and that people had broken into about 20 businesses there. By about midnight, most of the protesters had fled from around the police department, once National Guard troops and Minnesota State Patrol officers arrived to back up the police officers who stood around the building with riot gear and batons.
Every 15 mins or so, the police fire a chemical agent that burns the eyes and makes it difficult to breathe.
Crowd of 100+ people protesting Brooklyn Center, MN, police shooting of #DaunteWright recedes, then moves closer and some throw things.
Then more gas. pic.twitter.com/f07WkWBrjt
— Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs (@NickAtNews) April 12, 2021
Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter that he was praying for Wright’s family “as our state mourns another life of a Black man taken by law enforcement.”
Gannon said he had asked the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the agency that led the inquiry into Floyd’s death, to investigate the shooting.
The shooting comes after two weeks of testimony in the trial of Chauvin, who is white, that has laid bare the pain that the death of Floyd, a Black man, caused in Minneapolis. Jurors have heard from people who witnessed Floyd’s arrest, medical experts who described his death and police officials — including the Minneapolis police chief — who condemned Chauvin’s actions. And the graphic video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd for more than 9 minutes has been played repeatedly. Witness testimony was expected to resume at 9:15 a.m. Monday.
Many businesses in Minneapolis have kept boards over their windows since shortly after Floyd’s death on May 25, when protests rocked the city for days and scores of businesses were burned. And Black residents in and around Minneapolis remain on edge over policing, said Wynfred Russell, a City Council member in Brooklyn Park, another suburb where some businesses were broken into on Sunday after the shooting.
“You do have a lot of raw nerves here,” he said.
Wright, the victim’s mother, said that when her son had called her during the traffic stop, she had urged him to give his phone to a police officer so she could give the insurance information.
“Then I heard the police officer come to the window and say, ‘Put the phone down and get out of the car,’” she said.
She said she her son had dropped the phone or put it down, after which she heard “scuffling” and an officer telling Wright not to run. Then, she said, someone hung up the phone. When she called back, her son’s girlfriend answered and told her that he had been shot.
At an earlier protest and vigil near the scene of Wright’s death, his mother had urged the protesters to be peaceful.
“We want justice for Daunte,” she said. “We don’t want it to be about all this violence.”
But hours later, outside of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, protesters chanted and threw things at police officers, inching closer to the building until they were pushed back when police officers fired projectiles that burst with a loud bang and gas that burned their throats and eyes. The gas reached several apartment buildings across the street where families said they were shaken by the conflict that erupted in their front yards.
“We had to shut the doors because it was all in my house,” Tasha Nethercutt, a woman who lives in one of the apartments, said of the gas fired by the police. She said there were four children in her apartment during the unrest, including a 2-year-old.
Kimberly Lovett, who until recently had been a property manager for the four apartment buildings near the police station, said she had driven to the area to check on her former tenants and to show her frustration with the police.
“There are kids in all of these buildings,” she said, pointing toward apartment balconies, some of which had children’s toys scattered on them. “What we’re fed up with is the police steady killing young Black men.”
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