How many more names?
Air fresheners, a suspected counterfeit bill, a toy gun, a pack of Skittles. What do all of these have in common? For Black people in the United States, these are death sentences.
This past week, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old man, was added to the unceasing list of Black people killed by police. Wright, whose mother says called him to notify her that he was being pulled over, was shot in the chest by officer Kim Potter. Police have said that Potter, a 26-year veteran to the police force, mistook her gun for a taser. She has been charged with second-degree manslaughter for Wright’s death and has resigned from the force. For more information about the shooting of Wright, his life and the reaction of his community, click here.
Even though we will be learning more and more information in the coming weeks, I have something to say in response to Potter’s defense.
I’m tired of “mistakes.”
Potter stated that she mistook her gun for a taser and that explains why she shot Wright. While this may be a somewhat understandable excuse at first glance, we need to analyze how insulting this argument is.
First of all, as I stated before, Potter has been a member of the police force for 26 years. For almost three decades, she walked throughout the community with the same or similar weapons to the ones she wore that day. With any role, familiarity comes into play and with that expertise. A mistake like this is something that would be more believable for a rookie (albeit just as inexcusable), let alone with someone who has filled this role for as long as she has.
Next, let’s look at the differences between a gun and a taser. For one, the guns used by the police department in this particular case weigh significantly more than the tasers that officers use. They are also different colors, with tasers being brighter to reduce the chance of a mix-up happening. Even beyond this, the feel of each weapon is different. Guns have a safety on the trigger that a person will notice when trying to pull it, and this is not the same for tasers. Police officers within this police department are also taught to place their guns and tasers on opposite sides of their body, and the department manual states that “reasonable efforts should be made to target lower center mass and avoid the head, neck, chest and groin.” Wright was shot in the chest. A more detailed description of the difference between these two weapons, as well as the department manual, can be found here.
Last, the conversation must happen in concerns to why police officers, who are trained for dangerous situations and have the ability to end someone’s life in their line of work, are not paid the same amount of consequences as their counterparts. A mistake may not be intentional, but the ramifications of it cannot be brushed off. If a surgeon or nurse makes a mistake, they stand to be fired from their jobs and stripped of any chance of working in their field again. There is also the chance that they will be criminally charged. Police officers are given too much power to not be held accountable for what they do with it.
Shotty reasoning for being fearful cannot trump my right to keep breathing.
Wright’s death also brings up another point.
We have multiple health crises within this country, and one of them is police brutality.
For some, the death of George Floyd was their first true look into police brutality. However, for minorities, this is a reality that we have always had to be aware of. After Wright, another death at the hands of police has come to light in Adam Toledo, a Latino 13-year-old who was shot by a police officer on March 29.
According to police, Toledo was one of two being chased in an alleyway. After calls to put his hands in the air, Toledo appeared to drop an item behind a fence, then turned around to the officers and raised his hands. Adam was shot in the chest by the officer and died.
While the police officer at the center of the case, Eric Stillman, believes his use of force was warranted, it still does not take away from the fact that we are seeing right before our eyes the eradication of communities. We are seeing that while others may get multiple chances, warnings and benefits of the doubt, our first mistake or misstep can be our last.
The continuous emphasis on police being a safe haven can only be accepted if actions reflect words. For minority communities, police are people to be feared and represent unchecked power. They represent historical suppression and trauma. They are not seen as people there to protect but rather methods of keeping those within the area in check, by any means necessary.
Obviously, not every single person will agree when it comes to personal perception of the police. I’m not here to say what you should or should not think. But what I will say, is that before you look your friend in the eye and tell them how they should feel, think about this first: your personal interactions with the police do not match the collective experience of a community and their police relations. Take a step back and recognize your own point of view.
On the topic of privileged perspectives, I have a final question to ask.
Where is your allyship now?
Throughout the entirety of this article, I have talked continuously about how these people should not have died at the hands of police and how this can be directly correlated with minority reactions to the police force. Yet through all of this, I have to say that I am completely and totally drained. I cannot express how genuinely terrible it is to consistently live in fear. To feel the pain that comes with watching yet another person who looks like me be murdered, alongside the subsequent think pieces that come to justify why their death was necessary and all-around the correct option. I don’t need to hear that there was a sense in ending their lives. I also don’t need to hear that the use of deadly force was not necessary, in that specific instance. We are not walking checklists; you should not have to circle the correct box and that give the officer permission to use a lethal weapon. They deserved not to die is enough. You don’t need to say that they did not deserve to die for this or that. Maybe, just maybe, they should still be alive regardless.
We are living in vastly different Americas. For some, we have the ability to walk through life, knowing that the powers that be are working in the way that they were designed. The main difference among us is if these powers were constructed to protect and uplift or diminish and oppress. That distinction will be integral to your understanding of your place as an ally in the world.
BIPOC must mean more to all of you than their stereotype. They have to be more present in your lives than just sports, entertainment or even your seemingly groundbreaking epiphany that we are personalities beyond these. We deserve your support even when your interest in sharing posts on social media dries up or when it is no longer trendy to post a Black square. Our trauma is not a trend nor a hobby that you can take on until you’re bored.
Within the same point, this also means that you must care about our feelings and perspectives. Your activism needs to go beyond sharing videos of minorities dying; another part of understanding your privilege is realizing that these media often do more harm than good. Know how your actions, even with the right intention, may contribute to the trauma in the communities you are attempting to advocate for.
I no longer want to call these deaths “losses of life.” Their lives were not lost—they were stolen. This stripping of humanity is egregious, and the never-ending cycle has manifested into cyclical trauma passed down into each generation. How do we possibly grieve when we have no chance to rest?e