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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A few years ago, Daunte Wright was talking to a high school mentor about what to do if he was pulled over by police.
“Make sure your hands are on top of the steering wheel, don’t reach for anything,” Jonathan Mason told him, given the long history of Black men shot by police during traffic stops.
“He would always say, ‘Man, why we gotta do all that just for people not to kill us?'” Mason recalled this week, days after the 20-year-old Wright was killed by a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. He’d been pulled over for a minor traffic violation on a Sunday afternoon.
The killing set off days of protests and unrest in the little city, as civil rights activists and thousands of demonstrators demanded justice and police accountability. The suburb’s police station is now barricaded behind concrete barriers and tall metal fencing, watched over by police in riot gear and National Guard soldiers with armored vehicles and assault rifles.
Behind it all was the sudden death of a skinny, smiling young man who loved making people laugh and who, after becoming a father in his teens, relished the role of doting young dad, according to his family and friends.
A family photo shows a beaming Wright holding his son, Daunte Jr., at his first birthday party. Another shows Wright with a COVID-19 face mask, his son wearing a bib with the inscription, “ALWAYS HUNGRY.”
On Wednesday, some of his extended family came to the intersection where he was shot, carefully rearranging the lawn of flowers that had been left there in his memory or sobbing as they sat in the grass.
“He had a 2-year-old son that’s not going to be able to play basketball with him. He had sisters and brothers that he loved so much,” his mother, Katie Wright, said Tuesday on “Good Morning America.”
“His smile — oh, Lord — the most beautiful smile,’’ said his aunt, Naisha Wright, calling him “a lovable young man.”
An older cousin, Mario Greer, said he and Wright loved seeing each other on holidays, especially the Fourth of July, when they liked to shoot off Roman candles.
Mason, who worked as a youth development specialist and mentor at Edison High School in Minneapolis when Wright was a student there, said he was gregarious and popular.
“He was a charismatic kid. He would joke with you, and he was so witty,” Mason said in an interview. “He was one of those kids that everybody looked up to.”
Wright played on the freshman and junior varsity basketball teams, and was known for having a good left-handed shot, Mason said. As a freshman, he was voted class clown.
Wright would talk about what he hoped to do with his life, Mason said.
“He said, ‘I want to be an NBA player, I want to be a fashion designer, I want to be a business owner,’” Mason recalled. “I said, ‘If you grow up, you can be whatever you want to be.‘”
In 2018, Wright moved to Minneapolis’ Patrick Henry High School, where his sister is also a student. Principal Yusuf Abdullah said he left after one semester and then went to Stadium View School.
“We got to know Daunte really well through his sister. Many staff worked with him through the years, trying to build a relationship with him, connect with him,” Abdullah said.
He said Daunte wasn’t a difficult kid, but had some issues typical of teenagers: “A troubled life? No. I think just along the lines of a teenage life.” He wouldn’t elaborate.
“He was a good kid — excitable,” he said.
He said discussions among young Black men about dealing with police were “absolutely a part of life” for the students at Patrick Henry.
“It’s just the fear that comes along with being a Black male.”
Wright was pulled over Sunday as he drove through Brooklyn Center. Police say he was stopped for having expired car registration tags, but Wright’s mother said he called her just before he was shot and said he’d been pulled over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror — a traffic violation in Minnesota.
Police tried to arrest Wright after realizing he was wanted on an outstanding warrant. In the ensuing scuffle, Officer Kim Potter shot him. The city’s police chief, who resigned Tuesday, said he believed Potter had meant to fire her Taser, not her service pistol.
Potter, who also resigned Tuesday, was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter. She was released from jail after posting $100,000 bond.
According to court records, Wright was being sought after failing to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.
In a separate case, Wright was charged with aggravated robbery after police in nearby Osseo arrested him in December 2019. A criminal complaint said Wright and another man had joined a woman and her roommate to party, and the roommate left at one point to get $820 in cash to pay rent to the woman. Wright later demanded at gunpoint that the woman give him the money, choked her and tried to pull the money from under her bra, according to the complaint.
The matter was pending at the time of Wright’s death.
After Wright was killed, his family learned of a connection between him and George Floyd, the Black man whose death after being pinned to the ground by Minneapolis police officer nearly a year ago sparked nationwide protests. Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, said she worked with Wright while he was a student at Edison High. Ross was a teacher’s assistant and counselor at the school, said Mason, who worked with Ross. She testified the week before last in the trial of the officer accused of killing Floyd, which continues this week.
”(I’m) crushed. It’s enough that Floyd is gone, but for one of my youths to be gone as well,” Ross said Tuesday during a protest against police brutality in Minneapolis.
“He was just a wonderful, beautiful boy,” Ross said.
Associated Press writer Kat Stafford in Detroit and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner also contributed to this report.
Find AP’s full coverage of the death of Daunte Wright at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright