The police killing of Daunte Wright, a young Black man, was not an accident. It is the result of excessive powers afforded to law enforcement by state and federal laws as well as policing protocols and training. These are actions that in effect should be considered a criminal abuse of power, which results in deaths like that of Wright’s.
Too often media reports avoid addressing these larger systemic issues. For example, few reporters question the reason officers stopped Wright. Black drivers often report being profiled by officers as they assume they will find outstanding warrants. This situation smells of that type of harassment and profiling.
Another question left unasked is why officers are allowed to take anyone into custody on the spot for minor outstanding warrants. A citation and a reminder to address the warrant should be sufficient. Yet state laws, and police training and protocols, give officers the authority to immediately apprehend an individual. If arresting Wright was not permitted by law then he would still be alive.
Under the current authority afforded officers, if Daunte was in fact uncooperative, officers could have deescalated the situation by offering to resolve the warrant at a later time or date. They had all the information they needed to contact him. The validity of the warrant itself still remains an open question.
Another question that must be asked of the “criminality” inherent in policing, is why an officer in this situation has the legal authority to use a taser. The explanation that the officer accidentally used a handgun instead of a taser, excuses a system that allows taser use in this situation. We should not allow a debate over the “accidental” use of lethal force to obscure the fact that state laws and police training protocols allow such excessive use of force.
This brings us to the question being asked by protesters. How could a 26-year veteran officer mistake a handgun for a taser? It is nearly unfathomable given her years of training and the distinctive differences in weight, location, and feel of the weapon.
This leads to a question the media seldom asks: Why do all police officers need to carry lethal weapons? In many nations only select officers do so. Most policing is done by unarmed police officers.
Examining the shooting using this alternative framework leads us to also question the inadequate response of our state and local elected leaders, in particular, that of Gov. Tim Walz.
At a news conference Monday Walz said: “I express my deepest sympathies to the family, knowing that there’s absolutely nothing I can say that will make this better or take this back, but with an understanding there are things that we can do. …We don’t have to continue having these press conferences and having what may be a routine traffic stop end in a 20-year-old dead.”
Walz went on to talk about the need to pass police reform legislation that is currently held up by the GOP majority in the state’s senate. While these reforms should be passed, he must know these remedies would not have changed the outcome for Daunte and his family. His statement of condolence is like so many we hear on a regular basis from political leaders around the country.
After referencing these legislative changes, Walz then shifted to lecturing protesters about remaining peaceful. In reality, the problem is police violence. There would have been no protests or looting if there was no police misconduct.
Walz’s statement fails to speak to law enforcement officers directly. Let’s imagine a statement that rises to the gravity of this killing in the final week of the trial of Chauvin. Walz might have said the following.
“I want police officers of this state to listen carefully. You must step up and become a part of solving this problem in your profession. The blue wall of silence must end. You know there are officers in your departments who are not fit for the job. You know those who are racist, authoritarian, overly aggressive and those who intentionally violate people’s rights. It is past time to stand up and make your voices heard. I know there are many well-meaning officers, perhaps most, but silence is no longer an option.
I am asking you as law enforcement officers to reflect on your profession. We need to change laws, training and protocols. You can be part of that debate and work for change or you can choose to remain silent, but change will and must happen.”
In the final week of the Derek Chauvin trial, the killing of Daunte, and the tepid response of the governor, has simply exacerbated the simmering tensions and raw emotions that have existed since the murder of George Floyd.
Wayne Nealis is a resident of Minneapolis.