By Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs And Azi Paybarah
@ 2021 The New York Times
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — A police officer in Minnesota fatally shot a motorist Sunday in the city of Brooklyn Center, about 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis where a former police officer is on trial and charged in the death of George Floyd last year, officials and witnesses said.
By late Sunday, billowing streams of smoke and loud bangs filled the air around the Brooklyn Center Police Department Headquarters as police officers fired numerous devices toward a large crowd of protesters that had gathered outside the building. Just before 10 p.m. police declared the gathering unlawful, ordered people to disperse. They did not.
The scene had been largely nonviolent, though hours earlier, a crowd that gathered near the scene where the driver died included some people who jumped on police vehicles and broke their windows, according to video posted on Facebook. Outside the police building on Sunday night, people chanted “Black Lives They Matter Here,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as police kept firing objects toward the crowd.
On Twitter, Gov. Tim Walz said that he was “closely monitoring the situation in Brooklyn Center” and that the state “mourns another life of a Black man taken by law enforcement.”
Just before 2 p.m., officers pulled over a driver for a traffic violation and determined that the driver had an outstanding warrant, the Brooklyn Center Police Department said in a statement. Officers tried to arrest the driver but he “re-entered the vehicle,” police said.
“One officer discharged their firearm, striking the driver,” the statement said. “The vehicle then traveled several blocks before striking another vehicle.”
The driver died at the scene of the crash in a residential neighborhood, police said. Police also said they believed body-worn cameras and dashboard cameras “were activated” during the episode.
A woman who came to the scene of the crash said she was the victim’s mother. She identified her son as Daunte Wright, 20, and said he had called her when the police pulled him over. She could not immediately be reached.
Wright was in a vehicle his family had just given him two weeks ago, and was driving with his girlfriend, she said.
“He called me at about 1:40, said he was getting pulled over by the police,” the woman told reporters at the scene, according to a Facebook Live video. “He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.”
Wright also said the police had questions about the vehicle insurance, she said.
“I said when the police officer comes back to the window, put him on the phone and I will give him the insurance information,” she said. “Then I heard the police officer come to the window and say, ‘Put the phone down and get out of the car.’ And Daunte said why. He said, ‘We’ll explain to you when you get out of the car.’ ”
The woman said she heard her son either drop the phone, or put the phone on the dashboard and then “I heard scuffling and I heard the police officer say, ‘Daunte, don’t run’ and then the officer said, ‘put the phone down’ and hung it up.”
The woman said she called her son’s phone back and that Wright’s girlfriend answered. The girlfriend told her that Wright had been shot, she said. The girlfriend was not injured, according to police.
A crowd, including Wright’s relatives, gathered at the scene. While some people were yelling at officers and demanding answers, Wright’s family members urged people to be nonviolent.
“We want justice for Daunte,” the woman who identified herself as Wright’s mother said. “We don’t want it to be about all this violence,”
She also said she wanted her son’s body to be taken care of.
“I asked them to please take my son off the ground,” she said. “He’s been there since 1:47 this afternoon.”
A Brooklyn Center police officer told people at the scene that the victim’s body could not be moved until members of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, arrived and investigated, according to a Facebook Live video.
The bureau said on Twitter that agents were en route to the scene of what it described as “an officer involved shooting.” The Brooklyn Center police said in its statement that it had asked the bureau to conduct an independent investigation of the encounter.
As a crowd of activists and neighbors chanted and mourned around 9 p.m., Wright’s relatives and friends sat on a curb a block away, holding each other tightly as they cried into each other’s arms. A group of supporters diverted traffic away from the protest and the mourners. Near where Wright died was a chalk mural in the street demanding “Justice for Daunte Wright,” and a single burning candle.
Wynfred Russell, a City Council member in neighboring Brooklyn Park, said in an interview Sunday night that his community and Brooklyn Center have a large percentage of Black residents who are on edge over policing.
“So you do have a lot of raw nerves here,” Russell said.
The violence spilled over into the neighboring city of Brooklyn Park. More than 25 businesses were looted there Sunday night, and around 8 p.m., the front door of the main police building was shot out by gunfire, all in response to the police shooting of Wright, Deputy Chief Mark Bruley of the Brooklyn Park Police Department said in a brief telephone interview Monday morning.
“We literally just have bands and bands of people going up and down the streets looting and shooting gunfire off in the air and at police facilities,” he said. “It’s clearly related to the civil unrest, related to the shooting.”
The incident in Brooklyn Center unfolded against the backdrop of the trial of Officer Derek Chauvin, who is charged in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year. That episode, captured on video by witnesses, helped touch off a summer of protests around the country against police brutality.