At first, I felt a deep sinking feeling in my stomach as I read the news. On Sunday, April 11, 2021, Duante Wright lost his life during a traffic stop where he had been shot by a police officer. I quickly grew in frustration as I read that the town of ‘Brooklyn Center’ that several articles referenced was the same Brooklyn Center that was less than 30 minutes away from home town. I’ve always loved Minnesota, and I’ve always been proud to be from a state with the label of “Minnesota Nice.” However, the events over the past few years have made me embarrassed to be from a state that is filled with so much racial injustice.
On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was fatally shot in a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. He was driving with his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter at the time of the traffic stop. After being pulled over, he quickly informed the officer that he did have a firearm on him. Castile did what he was supposed to, he informed the officer, didn’t move his hands, and remained calm. However, the officer did not respond in the way he was trained. The officer began to yell “don’t pull it out,” which Castile was not doing. Within seven seconds of being told about the firearm, the officer fired into the car. Jeronimo Yanez murdered Philando Castile. Castile’s girlfriend promptly began recording and live-streaming the last few moments of Castile’s life. Castile died in front of his girlfriend and daughter. His death sparked national outrage and brought up the question of the police’s use of deadly force.
However, this incident would not be the last time that a Minnesota police officer would be the cause of national controversy.
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was arrested by Minneapolis Police after reportedly using a counterfeit bill at a convenience store. Within seventeen minutes after police arrived at the scene, Floyd was dead. Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by pinning him to the ground with his knee on his neck, while he was handcuffed, for over eight minutes. Despite Floyd exclaiming that he couldn’t breathe and onlookers crying out for the officer to stop, Chauvin did not remove his knee - even after Floyd lost consciousness or after paramedics arrived. Derek Chauvin and the other officers that were with him have all been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. Minneapolis went up in flames during the days after his death. The anger over Floyd’s death went beyond Minnesota as it sparked national and international outrage and massive protests. His death served as a reminder that police unjustly use deadly force far too often.
Despite all of the movements since Floyd’s death, another Minnesota police officer has sparked outrage.
On April 11, 2021, Duante Wright was pulled over while driving because of expired license plate tags. Police realized there was a warrant out for Wright’s arrest and attempted to handcuff him. Wright briefly struggled with the police officers as he tried to get back into his car. An officer then warned Wright that she was going to use her taser by calling out, “taser!.” However, it was not a taser. Kim Potter murdered Wright by shooting him in the chest. Potter pulled out her gun thinking it was a taser and proceeded to fatally shoot him. Somehow, despite working as a police officer for 26 years, as well as a taser weighing only eight ounces and her gun weighing over two pounds, she got them confused. She couldn’t tell the difference between her handgun and the bright yellow taser that she had been using for 26 years. This ‘confusion’ resulted in the death of 20-year-old Duante Wright. This incident has, once again, created outrage all throughout the country.
All three of these killings have caused people all across the country to question the amount of power that the police have. All three of these killings were preventable. No one deserved to die in any of these situations. These incidents have also called to attention the disproportionate amount of people of color that experience police brutality in comparison to white people. Black Lives Matter protests have happened all across the country to call attention to the injustice that people of color have been facing for generations. Far too often, police have shown that not everyone is treated equally in this country. Time and time again, people of color are mistreated by police officers. It is obvious that police forces across the country are not doing enough to properly train their officers. The police system has been broken for decades, yet somehow it takes a person’s death for police departments to notice their issues and to make changes. No one should have to die for people to start caring about a broken system. Police departments and governments need to do more to fix the horrendous and heartbreaking system that they have created.
Since January of 2000, there have been 207 police officer involved deaths in Minnesota alone.
This number is far too high. The absurd number of deaths and police brutality cases has caused people to be afraid of the police. For example, the case of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. She called the police on the night of July 15, 2017, reporting that she heard a woman screaming in the alley behind her home. She sat in her car, afraid of what was possibly happening in the alley, waiting for the police to show up. As she sat in her car, Minneapolis police officer, Mohamed Noor, shot and killed her. Noor claimed he thought he was being ambushed, however, Justine was in her car alone with no weapons. She did the right thing by calling the police to report a possible crime, yet calling the police resulted in her death.
Another example is Benjamin Evans. He was experiencing suicidal thoughts on the day of April 12, 2018, and was threatening to commit suicide. While he was armed and very distraught that day, he couldn’t bring himself to commit suicide. Officers responded to call about him acting recklessly; however, they did not respond appropriately. Despite never threatening to hurt police, the officers responded as if he was. While Evans was crying out in agony and needing help, Brain Krook shot and killed him rather than providing him assistance. Evans deserved professional mental health help. He needed help, yet police shot and killed him without reason. Calling for help in a situation like this seems like the right thing to do but calling 911 ended up being the reason for Evans' death.
These are just some of the cases from Minnesota. Nationwide, there have been over 5,600 police-involved deaths since January 2000.
The reality is, police shouldn’t kill guilty people, and most certainly not innocent civilians. None of these people deserved to die for any of the crimes the police accused them of. The police force needs to be held accountable for their actions.
There is no perfect or straightforward way to fix this broken system. The most important thing for us civilians to do is to stay informed and continue to advocate for reform. We need to reach out to lawmakers, sign petitions, and peacefully protest in hopes of creating positive change. Police officers need more training on bias and racial injustice. As a country, we need to begin to question the amount of force that police officers have. While it seems impossible as just one individual person, if we all begin to spread awareness, slowly, things may start to change for the better.
I am deeply saddened and hurt knowing that many of my friends and people I know do not have the privilege of being protected by the police. The seemingly endless amounts of killings and police brutality stories have forever affected my view and opinion on the police departments nationwide. The system that was created to help people make people safe and protected has done the complete opposite.
Do better Minnesota. Fix the system.