Another Day, Another Death

On Sunday, 20-year old Daunte Wright was pulled over by Minnesota police for operating a vehicle with an expired registration and air fresheners hanging from its rearview mirror.

Minutes later, he was dead.

Wright, it turns out, had an outstanding warrant for a gross misdemeanor, and when police attempted to cuff him, Wright ducked out of their grasp and back into the vehicle.

There, he sustained a single gunshot wound to the chest and was pronounced dead at the scene after driving a few blocks and crashing into another vehicle.

Kim Potter, the 26-year veteran of the force who shot Wright, was placed on administrative leave. Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters Monday that he believes Potter mistook her firearm for her Taser, as body cam footage of the incident shows her shouting “Taser” repeatedly before discharging her weapon.

Both Potter and Gannon have since resigned, and Potter was arrested Wednesday on a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

This, the latest incident in a series of excessive force, occurred just miles away from where Derek Chauvin is currently standing trial in the murder of George Floyd. In fact, relatives revealed in a press conference Tuesday that Floyd’s girlfriend once taught Daunte Wright in school.

Of course, that is the least notable tie between the two. Of greater consequence, the fact that both now serve as poster boys for a nationwide epidemic in which Black individuals enter the custody of those sworn to protect and serve only to die under their “care.”

It is an epidemic that has claimed the lives of men and women of all ages, trades, and socioeconomic status — their common thread, their race.

I sat down to write this post on Monday. It is now Wednesday, and I have barely made a dent. And that is because I cry every time I put finger to keyboard — my tears blurring the screen.

I am white. I have never once feared for my safety during interactions with members of law enforcement. I do not fear for my children. I am not forced to have “the talk” with them, nor must I implore them to make use of new technology to record police.

And yet every time I am reminded of the systemic killing of our Black peers, it is like someone took a sledgehammer to my heart. It is an all-consuming sorrow that warps my days and taints my nights.

And if I — a person with immense privilege — feel this way, I know how tired our Black friends must be.

As Hanif Abdurraqib writes, “There is no moment in America when I do not feel like I am fighting. When I do not feel like I’m pushing back against a machine that asks me to prove that I belong here.”

Which is why it is particularly infuriating to read some of the inevitable responses.

“He had a warrant out for his arrest. He was no choir boy.”

“If he had just obeyed orders, he’d still be alive today.”

Screw. That.

Last I checked, we have a system of jurisprudence in this country that guarantees our citizens the right to due process. We also have a Constitution that proscribes cruel and unusual punishment.

And yet.

The warrant for Daunte Wright’s arrest was for a gross misdemeanor.

As far as I am aware, the penalty for gross misdemeanors is not capital punishment.

Nor is capital punishment the penalty for resisting arrest.

And yet we have been trained as a society to accept murder as a valid response to misdemeanor acts, so long as it is perpetrated by a man or woman in a badge.

Again, screw that.

Murder is not an appropriate response to disobedience, unless there is threat of violence. And not just a threat in the abstract, an appreciable threat borne out by evidence.

According to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, law enforcement is permitted to use deadly force in only two circumstances:

  1. To protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm, provided that the threat:
    1. can be articulated with specificity by the law enforcement officer;
    2. is reasonably likely to occur absent action by the law enforcement officer; and
    3. must be addressed through the use of deadly force without unreasonable delay; or
  2. To effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person whom the peace officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony and the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or great bodily harm to another person under the threat criteria in paragraph (a), items (i) to (iii), unless immediately apprehended.

Objectively, neither apply here.

So it matters not that the man had a warrant out for his arrest, nor does it matter that he did not comply. And I am routinely stunned by the fact that the same people who call mask mandates “tyranny” are suddenly the keepers of government authority when it is a Black man’s level of deference at issue.

Because, ultimately, there is a reason why Black people flee, and it is because there has been a pattern of mistreatment at the hands of police, even when appropriate levels of deference and respect are on display.

Charles Kinsey could not have been more compliant. The mild-tempered social worker ― in the midst of caring for his autistic charge ― was lying on the ground, hands in the air, pleading with officers to put their weapons down, prior to being shot.

Levar Jones could not have been more respectful. After being approached by an officer in a gas station and asked to produce identification, Jones reached into his car to retrieve his license. The frantic officer screamed at him to get out of the car, and when he immediately withdrew himself from the vehicle, he was shot. He hadn’t failed to comply. Quite the opposite. Nor had he failed to treat the officer with respect. In fact, he can be heard calling his assailant “sir” and saying, “I’m sorry,” while he lay on the ground bleeding — shot for following orders.

And what was Tamir Rice guilty of, other than being a 12-year-old child in possession of a toy gun? What did Philando Castile do wrong, other than alert authorities to the existence of a lawfully owned weapon?

We live in a society where Black people are so disproportionately mistreated at the hands of police that the Massachusetts Supreme Court was forced to conclude that Black people have legitimate reason to flee.

Wrote the court in its ruling, “We do not eliminate flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis whenever a black male is the subject of an investigatory stop. However, in such circumstances, flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect’s state of mind or consciousness of guilt. Rather, the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO [Field Interrogation and Observation] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity. Given this reality for black males in the city of Boston, a judge should, in appropriate cases, consider the report’s findings in weighing flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion calculus.”

This is the reality of being Black in America. And yet I see very little empathy on the part of those who prescribe “obedience.” Little empathy on the part of too many officers. Little empathy on the part of so many Monday morning quarterbacks.

But you needn’t look further than the video of Army lieutenant Caron Nazario for evidence of the crippling fear that exists. Nazario, in full military garb, was too scared to even unlatch his seatbelt, afraid that it would afford the officer — who had just threatened him — just cause to use force.

The scariest part of all? The fact that said officer was not fired until public release of the video and the resulting outcry necessitated it. Four months after the fact. Had that video remained confined to the department, this man would still be “serving” the public today.

And that’s standard fare. Officers are seldom held accountable, and when they do attempt to intervene when another is using excessive force, it is often the intervening officer that ultimately faces punishment.

This is the society that we live in.

And I will not sit idle while people who decry cruel and oppressive government rule when their trips to the local watering hole are threatened remain silent — or worse — when Black lives are threatened. Because, to me, one form of cruel and oppressive government is a far greater threat to our liberties and personhood than the other.

At least, under one, the person lives to go to the watering hole another day.

Daunte Wright won’t be able to.

Not just because he was 20, but because a government agent decided, yet again, that effectuating an arrest was more important than the preservation of life.

Let’s try to muster the same outrage over that as we do for face coverings or looting.

No.

Screw that.

Let’s muster more.

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