Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed on Sunday during a traffic stop by a Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer who allegedly meant to use her Taser instead. The Brooklyn Center police chief said the department assessed that the officer, Kim Potter, mistook her firearm for a stun gun based on body camera footage and the fact that she appeared to shout “Taser!” before firing. Wright was pulled over due to expired plates and the air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror, according to the officers. Potter has since resigned from the force and been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
At least 16 people in the United States, including Wright, have been shot by police officers who claimed to have confused their firearm with a stun gun since 2001. A 2012 article published in the Americans for Effective Law Enforcement journal lists 10 such known cases from 2001 to 2009, but one of those was in Canada. A Slate review of news archives found eight additional instances that occurred from 2014 to 2021.
Steven Yount — Sacramento, California, 2001
Everardo Torres — Madera, California, 2002
Christofar Atak — Rochester, Minnesota, 2002
Frederick Henry — Eden, Maryland, 2003
Theodore Wright — Mesa, Arizona, 2004
Unknown — Bremerton, Washington, 2006
Michael McCarty — Nicholasville, Kentucky, 2008
Oscar Grant — Oakland, California, 2009
Eric Butts — Springfield, Missouri, 2014
Eric Harris — Tulsa, Oklahoma, 2015
Jamel Jackson — Baldwin County, Georgia, 2017
Ryan Smith — York County, Pennsylvania, 2018
Akira Lewis — Lawrence, Kansas, 2018
Brian Riling — New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2019
Ashley Hall — Ladue, Missouri, 2019
Daunte Wright — Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, 2021
It’s important to know their names. They are victims of a system of policing that is remarkably cruel and violent toward those it purports to protect and serve. Four people—Torres, Grant, Harris, and Wright—were killed by these alleged mistakes. (In regard to Grant, investigators didn’t believe the officer accidentally pulled his gun instead of his Taser.) Other media outlets have noted that, in the broader scheme of police violence, the number of people shot in lieu of being tased is small. But that fundamentally misses the point of why people are so deeply upset about Wright’s death, those who were shot or killed before him, and the ways in which police operate within communities.
Before the Brooklyn Center officer reached for either of her weapons, she chose to stop Daunte Wright in the first place. Traffic stops involving Black motorists are often done for tenuous reasons—Wright was reportedly stopped for an expired registration and an illegally positioned air freshener—and the interactions that follow are amplified by the police. Black drivers are more likely to be stopped and searched by the police despite being less likely to be in possession of illegal contraband, according to data collected by the Stanford Open Policing Project. An ABC analysis found that this holds true even in cities where Black drivers are stopped just as often as white ones. Walter Scott and Philando Castile were both killed after police stopped them for a minor infraction—in Castile’s case an unfounded one—and then rapidly moved on to violence. Sandra Bland died in jail after she was arrested during a traffic stop by an officer who had no reason to escalate the situation.
Last year in Atlanta, Messiah Young and Taniyah Pilgrim were sitting in a traffic jam resulting from the protests for George Floyd. Young’s friend, who was on foot, was arrested after conversing with Young through his car window. That’s when Young started filming the encounter and asked that his friend be released. Cops told him to keep driving and, despite the traffic jam, Young tried to comply. From there, officers became increasingly aggressive and confrontational, trying to break Young’s car window and tasing Pilgrim as she was getting out of the car. Once Young’s window was broken, he was tased too.
“I feel a little safer now that these monsters are off of the street and no longer able to terrorize anyone else,” Young told the Associated Press after all six involved officers were charged and two were fired.
Black people are terrorized by the police. It’s a public health crisis that is rarely treated as such. Black men and women are more likely to be pulled over, injured, or killed by the police. In communities with high instances of police violence, mental health is strained and life expectancy is lower. Emergency room visits are higher due to violent encounters with cops. The risk of giving birth prematurely is higher. Police violence, especially when it’s fatal, “can influence health inequities going into the next generation,” researcher Dana Goin told Slate in March.
When the costs are considered, it’s impossible to accept that another Black person has been killed—especially by what officials deem an “accident.” Black people, though not monolithic, share a collective experience. Ties within individual communities are rich and deeply interwoven. No one is too far removed. It’s been reported that Wright’s former teacher was George Floyd’s girlfriend. At times, it goes deeper. Black extended families are fortified through blood and choice. Adorning a friendship with familial titles further solidifies the bond between two people who care about each other. Caron Nazario, an Army second lieutenant assaulted during a traffic stop, recently said that he referred to his wife’s cousin Eric Garner as his “uncle”—a title, like auntie, given to an older Black person to whom you’re not related out of respect.
Wright was on the phone with his mother not too long before he was killed. She tried to coach him through it, telling him to remove the air fresheners from his mirror and to let her talk to the cops if they needed his insurance information. Katie Wright heard her son ask if he was in trouble before she heard someone put the phone down and then a scuffle before being disconnected.
“I know my son was scared. He’s afraid of the police, and I just seen and heard the fear in his voice,” his mother told ABC News. “But I don’t know why and it should have never escalated the way it did.”
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