When Police Kill … Again

Listen to this episode

S1: This is a word, a new podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. Less than a year after George Floyd’s death, Minnesota police fatally shot Dontae Wright at a traffic stop.

S2: He was the son. He was a brother, an uncle, a father and grandfather who stole much more. And you did not deserve this at all.

S1: Why does this keep happening? And can this community be kept safe from the police? That’s coming up on a word with me, Jason Johnson. Stay with us. Welcome to a word, a podcast about race and politics and everything else, your host, Jason Johnson, a police officer, shot and killed 20 year old Dante Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Sunday afternoon. I want listeners to be prepared because we’re going to play you a short clip from the police body cam video. You’ll hear the voice of Kim Potter, the officer who killed. Right. Here it is. Shyam. This is just miles away from where police officer Derrick Shoven murdered George Floyd almost a year ago. The fight against police violence has been intense in Minnesota, and Jonathan MacLellan has been part of that fight. He’s the president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, a group that has been pressing for police reform in the state. And now Jonathan McClelland joins us. Welcome to a word, Jonathan. Thank you. As black men, this isn’t just political. It’s personal. Where were you when you heard that Dontae Wright was shot? And how did it hit you, given the other work that you’ve been doing in state for so long?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: I was attending a vigil for another man that was brutally beaten and thrown in the dumpster, a black man by the St. Paul Police Department. I was at his birthday anniversary when we found out that there was another police shooting. Everybody was in disbelief. Nobody wanted to believe that it happened again. And as the facts started coming out, we decided that we had to leave that event and go over to that location.

S1: And are you at liberty to say the man who was who was beaten by the St. Paul police and thrown in the dumpster?

S3: Yeah, his name was Justin Teigen. It happened in two thousand nine.

S1: The officer who killed not right is Kim Potter. She’s a 26 year veteran of the force. She has since resigned. So was her boss, Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Garnett, but not before he tried to explain her actions during a press conference. I want us to listen to this clip and get your opinion on the other side.

Advertisement

S4: As you can hear, the officer, while struggling with Mr. Right, shouts Taser, Taser several times. That is part of the officer’s training prior to deploying a Taser, which is a less lethal device that is done to make her partners aware, as well as a subject that a Taser deployment will be imminent during this encounter. However, the officer drew their handgun instead of their taser.

S1: This this idea that that twenty six year veteran, someone who’s a part of the police union, couldn’t tell a damn difference between her taser and her gun. How did you respond when you heard that

S3: there’s no possible way that you couldn’t tell from a firearm who has a different way, a different feel? It was cold outside, so that firearm would be cold and a piece of plastic that’s yellow that you hold up in front of your face and and say, taser, taser, taser. So there’s I mean, logically, you would have to say so you were just pulling out something and shooting it indiscriminately. Is that how our police departments work?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: So, Jonathan, most of us were watching this press conference from our homes, on our phones, on our laptops, were you actually there?

S3: I was there. It was a pretty chaotic situation when we got there. During that press conference, the police chief was defiant. The attitude of the chief of police in those moments, in the moments before that were completely disrespectful. And right after the mayor announcing that he he supported dismissing the officer because of the mistake she made was is not a mistake that should be tolerated, especially with her her years of service and experience. The police chief of Brooklyn Center walked out of the room. And when that happened, everybody in the room was shocked. Where did the police chief go? Why is he not here? This is the city is is hurting right now. And he turned his back on the people.

Advertisement

S1: Jonathan, this is something else that I think is what outsiders are concerned with when we we see this news from sort of five thousand feet away. A lot of us are thinking about Flandreau Castiel, the fact that he had been stopped forty nine times by the police for minor traffic issues over and over and over again. Here we have Dontae, right. Stop by the police for minor traffic issues. Have there been any actual policy or training changes for the Minneapolis police department from for Landow Castiel to now, or is this basically an extension of the same level of harassment?

S3: This is the same level of our extension of harassment from the police to to our communities of color, and we’ve been pushing for policy changes and the Chiefs Association and the Sheriffs Association has been lobbying at the Capitol trying to keep the status quo.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I want to follow up on that, because this is such a key thing that you have an organization of sheriffs and police. What are they saying? What are they telling state senators and state representatives is the rationale behind these kinds of stops for petty fines that oftentimes end up being harassment and leading to other sort of forms of violence and harassment rather than actually anything getting accomplished and we’re getting arrested

S3: that they’re just doing their jobs? Their argument is that we wake up in the morning and we put on our uniforms and our badge and all we want to do is go home while community members and especially children, they want to go home to and fathers, they want to go home to, mothers they want to go home to. And so the arguments that they were putting forward are not well thought out. And they’re almost elementary in nature with no support backing anything that they’re saying about our communities. A matter of fact, according to Keith Ellison, our attorney general, there’s only five percent of violent crime in the state of Minnesota. That means ninety five percent of the crime in the state of Minnesota is non violent. But yet they come with their guns ablaze and almost in a cowboy ish way. And we need to change that. We’re going to take a short break.

Advertisement

S1: When we come back, more on Dontae Wright’s death and police violence in Minnesota. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson. Today, we’re focusing on the death of Dante Wright and police violence in Minnesota with the president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, Jonathan MacLellan. Dontae Wright was killed in the midst of the trial during Schavan, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd almost a year ago. Here’s a clip of Minneapolis Police Chief Medaris Arredondo testifying against him once.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: There was no longer any resistance. And clearly when Mr. Floyd was no longer responsive and even motionless to continue to apply that level of force to a person prone doubt handcuffed behind their back, that in no way, shape or form is anything that is by policy is not part of our training, and it is certainly not part of our ethics or our values.

Advertisement

S1: So, Jonathan, a lot of people look at they hear these kinds of clips. They saw this kind of testimony in a trial and are like, see, the system works. One police officer can hold another officer accountable. How do you feel about the fact that in this trial, so many officers have come forth to basically criticize or question the behavior of their shop?

S3: I think the general sentiment around the community is that this is how the police should act when these incidents happen. And because of the outpouring of community and activists and protests that they’re, in essence, breaking their their code to pacify people in the community. This isn’t a common thing for police officers to do. But because this case has such a high profile, they’re trying to play that game. And that’s that’s how it’s been received in the community. The police officers need to do this more often and they need to show that that they’re committed to doing that. And until they reconcile and acknowledge their misdeeds and continue to come forward, I don’t think that it’s credible.

Advertisement

S1: So your organization, the Minnesota Justice Coalition, what are some specific policies that you have been trying to get passed in the state legislature and then on top of that, have you found any allies amongst any police

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: as far as finding allies amongst police? We we haven’t found allies amongst police. They’re trying to, again, hold that blue wall of obstruction with some of the bills that that we’re pushing for this session. And the way that these bills came about was during the special session, we were able to draft some of this legislation and and put it forward as part of a package of criminal justice reform package that was supposed to go through the special session. And those bills consist of ending qualified immunity, police, professional liability insurance, civilian oversight, strengthen, ending police only responses to mental health crisis calls, and in the statute of limitations on wrongful death and independent investigatory and prosecutorial body and in prosecution for reporting police misconduct, access to body worn camera footage within 40 hours and ending no knock warrants. And those are a list of bills that we put forward and worked on and drafted. Michel Gross with Communities United Against Police Brutality, who is one of our coalition partners, also put some work into that legislation as well, as well as Noah Macourt with the Disability Justice Network.

Advertisement

S1: And yet, despite a slew of bills that most people have heard of, I mean, you’ve got certain states that are already trying to get rid of qualified immunity. You’ve gotten little or no help from actual law enforcement. And the state

S3: law enforcement wants to keep the status quo. But at the same time, they want to hold out their hand and ask for dollars to pay for all their training initiatives. But they don’t want any substantive change changes in in law that would remove the barriers that they typically run to to hide behind when they make a mistake or when they kill us or when they break the law. And that’s that’s one of the things that we want to do for decades. The police departments with unlimited access to funds and resources and unlimited access to our elected leaders have been pushing for policies that absolve them of their crimes, remove the checks of accountability and transparency at the expense of our communities. And we’re fed up with that and we’re calling them out.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: We’re going to take a short break, when we get back, more on the death of Dontae Wright and what happens next. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson. Today, we’re talking about Donte Wright’s death and ongoing police violence with Jonathan MacLellan of the Minnesota Justice Coalition. Jonathan, there have been protests in and around Brooklyn Center since Wright was killed. You were quoted in the Minnesota Daily offering advice to protesters connected to the Chauvins trial and how to stay safe. What was some of the advice that you gave to protesters who were out there trying to make their voices heard?

S3: First of all, to exercise their First Amendment, they have a right to be out there, they have a right to be upset, they have a right to be angry and they have a right to be heard. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that usually this happens, it’s the police that are get on edge and that escalate violence. And that’s been my experience at multiple protests that I’ve been at. This is how they respond to us. We’re not the problem, boys storming the Capitol and we’re community members who are grieving and they show up in riot gear and tanks with AR 15s, full body armor, mass tear gas, flash bangs, rubber bullets. And they unleash hell on us. That is what they do. They didn’t do it to the boys, but they did it. They do it to us consistently over and over and over again.

S1: I’m glad you made that point, Jonathan, because it hasn’t been lost on me and I’ve said that every opportunity that I can, that the local police response to protesters, peaceful protesters who are angry about a death at the hands of the state is more aggressive than a group of white nationals who are trying to take over the country just a couple of months ago. What is your opinion on on defunding versus abolishing the police versus what Barack and Michelle Obama have said is reimagining the police? Where do you think needs to be the change, given that the problems don’t seem to be improving? Six years ago, we thought body cameras are going to fix everything that clearly ain’t enough.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: Our collective of organizations, we’re all for the police departments aren’t working. They’re clearly broken. There’s something about the system that doesn’t work and we have to do something to fix it. We need to rethink the police department with community input. And they need to they need to be more responsive to the communities. It involves how we appropriate dollars and what we appropriate dollars to and the types of responses. Those are just some of the things that we need to do.

S1: When you talk about community, we often talk about the sort of blue line. There’s a community of police officers in this community, people they’re supposed to serve. What do you suggest as an organization that the community of police do in order to prevent these bad apples from just going from location to location? Because if you can get fired from one place and go from Minneapolis to St. Paul and no one cares, then we really haven’t solved this problem

S3: right in the state of Minnesota and in a small city called Richfield, we had a similar situation where an officer was abusing the community and the city council caught wind of it. They terminated his employment and threw his collective bargaining agreement, was able to get a ruling that favored him. And the city still did not want him back and opted to pay a settlement instead of having him come back. I think that some of that responsibility lies at the foot of the city who approves those collective bargaining agreements because they can put the right measures in those agreements that make it so that they’re allowed to fire police officers. But being able to go from one police department to another has to do with licensing. And and it’s it’s unfortunate. But before George Floyd was tragically murdered, we were trying to advance a piece of legislation with Representative Michael Howard, the state representative for Ridgefield in that area. That would make it so if the police chief or if a city council fired an officer, the state would revoke their license. And if they don’t have a license, they can’t get a job at another police department. And it’s and the burden shifts from cities because there was talk about the impact, economic impact on the cities with litigation. But if you remove the license, then it becomes a state issue and the attorney general takes it up in the city is done with it. And those are the types of substantive policies that we’re talking about that we need at the state. But the opposition in these legislatures is is enormous. We got to remember that these police departments have been here for decades pushing these policies and the state of Minnesota. We had a measure that came up before the Senate that said that if an officer is affiliated with a white supremacist group, that they should be terminated from their employment. And that was that measure was defeated by the GOP in the Senate. So that means they approve of this affiliation. How are we supposed to move forward when we have remnants of our past in the 50s and 40s still floating around in the halls of our elected leaders? And that’s that’s just a shame.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: Jonathan, a year from now when the cameras are gone and the nation is paying attention to something else, you still have people on the ground like yourself who are still fighting for justice, fighting for change, fighting for just honesty. What does justice look like for Donte Wright and his family? And in April of twenty twenty two, what would it look like? In the best case scenario? We can’t bring him back. But what does justice look like?

S3: Justice for Dante Wright. Is the officer being charged with murder? And convicted of murder, it’s the city acknowledging what happened and making amends. Like you said, we won’t be able to get that right back. And the experiences that his daughter will miss out on from her father, the city has to step up on that one and own it as well. As I’ll also add that it’s legislation passing to prevent another DONTAE, right.

S1: Jonathan MacLellan is the president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition. Thank you. Thank you. And that’s a word for this week. If you’re enjoying a word, please subscribe rate and review. Did you know you could be listening to this show ad free? All it takes is a slate plus membership. It’s just one dollar for the first month. And it also helps us keep making our podcasts sign up now at Slate Dotcom a word. Plus, the show’s email is a word at Slate Dotcom. This episode was produced by Ioana Angel and Jasmine Ellis. Aisha Solutia is the managing producer of podcast at Slate. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Alicia Montgomery is the executive producer of podcasts at Slate. June Thomas is senior managing producer of the Slate podcast Network. Our theme music was produced by Don Will. I’m Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for word.