Tragedy strikes again: Darnella Frazier’s uncle latest victim of police chase

KingDemetrius Pendleton A scene from the vigil for Leanel Frazier, a father of five

The scene at the corner of 41st Street and Lyndale Avenue North on Wednesday night where 40-year-old Leneal Frazier died after being T-boned by a Minneapolis police officer involved in a high-speed chase early Tuesday morning was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

Frazier’s mother Jacqueline Jackson told MSR that “he was going home; my son was going home,” while pointing to a house only a matter of yards from where his nearly lifeless body was pulled from the wreckage. Jackson said she has nothing but pleasant memories of Frazier who she said had been a “good boy.”  She related that she was distraught over the fact that local authorities have not allowed her to view her son’s body and that he has already been sent to a local funeral home.

“We were just with him two days ago,” said his sister Cheryl Frazier. “He was in good spirits and he barbequed for everybody.”

“Tragedy upon tragedy; trauma on top of trauma,” is how KingDemetrius Pendleton summed up yet another death of a human being at the hands of local law enforcement.

At the makeshift vigil, which shut down the corner of Lyndale and 41st, the pain was palpable as family and friends gathered and shared stories and remembrances of Frazier. From time to time, his mother and other relatives could be seen weeping out loud as they were periodically overcome with grief.

Minneapolis Police Spokesman John Elder said that the squad car had its siren on and lights flashing. But based on the video shared by a local news station, the police vehicle was going too fast for any of that to have mattered. It’s likely Frazier did not hear the siren or see the lights as he crossed into the intersection. The impact from the collision smashed in the total front end of the cruiser, eventually destroying a bus shelter and lifted a steel street sign out of the ground bending it.

Elder also seemingly attempted to justify the actions of the officer involved, identified as Brian Cunningham, by pointing out that according to MPD  policy and guidelines, he was permitted to give chase because the person he was pursuing had committed a serious and violent felony.

The suspect who has not been identified had allegedly taken part in a robbery and was getting away in a car that had been carjacked. The guidelines also permit police to pursue those suspected of a gross misdemeanor.

There was debate online and in the community about who bore more responsibility for Frazier’s death, the police, or the robbery suspect being chased by Officer Cunningham. The victim was Darnella Frazier’s uncle and she expressed her grief at what she felt like was the second time she had been victimized and traumatized by Minneapolis police in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

However, she was criticized by some who took her reaction and criticism of the police to mean that she was saying the police killed her uncle on purpose.

Her follow-up response captured the feeling of many in the community and other well-meaning folks outside of the community who are not prone to be apologists for the police.

“I never said the police killed him on purpose,” explained Darnella. “I said it was the police’s fault. I never said it had anything to do with race because if this was a Black cop, I’d feel the same way. I honestly don’t even know the race of the cop. I just know it was a police officer behind the wheel. I also never said the suspect held zero responsibility, but the police made a bad decision by doing a high-speed chase on a residential road. That bad decision cost my uncle his life.,” wrote Darnella.

“The police car is the car that killed my uncle. Accident or not he’s gone. Everyone made it out alive, BUT my uncle. It hurts different because he had NOTHING to do with this. He was on his way home. I have every right to feel the way I feel. My family as well. If it was you in my shoes, you would be doing the same. We can never just express emotions without being criticized. The same emotions everyone else has..”

“How much more of this can one community take?” asked a man participating in the makeshift vigil last night.  It’s likely a question asked by many in a  community confused by the desire to be safe and protected by police but struggling with the apparent political function of the police to intimidate, harass, and make sure that the Black population knows its place in society.

And these deaths resulting from police chases are not consistent with the new MPD policy that declared that police behavior will be guided by the principle that the sanctity of life would take precedent in all police interactions with the public.

This tragedy also comes on the heels of debate about the role of police in the community and the filing of a lawsuit by members in the community who say that more police are needed to keep the community safe.

There are no statistics revealing exactly how many people have been killed by Minneapolis police over the last decade during the high-speed pursuit of suspected lawbreakers.  However, statistics collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that 40 people were killed as a result of police chases between 2013 and 2019.

In October 2020, three teenagers died in North Minneapolis when they lost control of the stolen vehicle they were driving while being chased by the police. In 2019, a Latin immigrant was killed while sitting in his car in front of his house in North Minneapolis when the suspect that police were chasing slammed into his car. In 2013, Minneapolis police speeding to the scene where Terrence Franklin had been killed, caused the death of motorcyclist Ivan Romero Olivares as they proceeded through a red traffic light.

In none of those instances were police held accountable.

Many have questioned the wisdom of police chases and have asked: Are the lives lost worth the pursuit?

Following the outcry from the community, on Thursday morning, Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement saying that the City would review the MPD’s car pursuit policy. “The loss of Leneal Frazier as the result of an MPD pursuit is a horrific tragedy. Period. Darnella, Leneal’s family, and Minneapolis’ Black community have borne the weight of more trauma over the last year than anyone, let alone any young person, should be expected to endure in a lifetime.

“We updated the department’s pursuit policy in 2019 to make it far more restrictive and will again be reviewing that policy, independent of the investigation,” stated Frey.