'A devastating situation': Rochester residents react to shooting of Daunte Wright

·6 min read

Apr. 13—When Nicole Andrews heard that Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, called his mother before being fatally shot by Brooklyn Center police during a traffic stop, it was heartbreaking and personal.

Andrews, a Black woman, said she taught her 14-year-old son to call her if he was ever in a car that got pulled over. It's a tool she and several other members of her family developed to make sure someone knows the truth about an encounter with the police, and at the most extreme, ensures their loved one isn't alone if they die, she said.

"I'm so tired, I am so exhausted by carrying this weight," said Andrews, who is a readiness supervisor for Rochester Public Schools and also leads diversity and inclusion trainings in the area. The effects of the shooting are even more palpable in Rochester, she said, because it's just 100 miles away from where Wright was shot.

As Rochester residents are absorbing the testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin — an ex-Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd — they are now forced to reckon with another unarmed Black man dying in police custody.

An "accidental discharge"

Wright was fatally shot by police Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb about 15 miles from the Cup Foods store where Floyd died.

He was pulled over in a traffic stop.

Body camera footage shows Officer Kim Potter yelling "Taser! Taser! Taser!" while struggling with Wright as he attempted to get back in his car. She shot him with a single round from her handgun. Potter, who has more than two decades of experience with the department, could be heard saying "Holy s----. I just shot him."

In a Monday news conference, Police Chief Tim Gannon said he believed it was an "accidental discharge."

Potter has been placed on administrative leave, according to the department.

"We're more than just statistics"

As Mayo High School senior Yezi Gugsa woke up to the news of Wright's shooting on Monday morning, she thought of all the protests she and her peers organized last summer after the killing of Floyd.

"Many people are feeling an overwhelming feeling of defeat. My organizers ... we're all young," Gugsa said. "That's what hurts the most. We're all young people who are feeling this on a personal level. It seems like no matter how hard we work, the system never seems to change and lives continue to be lost."

A statement from the Rochester branch of the NAACP called for greater data collection on police encounters, a "transparency dashboard" displaying these statistics, support for community policing strategies, an end to racial profiling and a focus on advancing effective law enforcement practices.

"Families are distressed and constantly worry about their loved ones, including children, coming home safely. The Rochester Branch of the NAACP will work with our community and partners on a forum to grieve," the statement says.

After watching the Chauvin trial and seeing footage of Floyd's death day after day, Gugsa said the last couple of weeks have taken a toll on her mental health. Wright's killing compounded those emotions.

"There has been yet another shooting in a community that is already broken and trying to heal. It's definitely a devastating situation," Gugsa said.

Andrews worries that the people lost in these shootings are quickly reduced to being "just another name on the list." Minnesota has had several high-profile police killings of Black people in the last decade, including the 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark, 2016 shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop, and, most recently, Floyd's death.

"We're more than just statistics, stereotypes and numbers. We are full human beings who have a full range of emotions and thoughts and feelings about these incidents," Andrews said.

Gugsa is experiencing similar emotions as she grieves Wright's shooting.

"This is a life that was taken. This was a son who was taken away from his mother and a father who was taken away from his (child)," Gugsa said. "I think we lose the human pieces of these things when shootings like this happen."

One of the largest frustrations Sara-Louise Henry has is how law enforcement seems to be trying to find an excuse or reason to validate Potter's reaction "before even the pavement is dry," she said.

Henry grapples with issues of police brutality in a complicated way: her husband is a police officer.

"On his way to work, he is a Black man in a car, until he puts his uniform on," said Henry, who lives in Pine Island and works in Rochester. "It's two different types of dangers."

Echoes of a Rochester "accidental discharge"

Wright's shooting is a reminder of a 2002 incident in which a Rochester police officer said he accidentally shot Christofar Atak in the back after intending to use his Taser.

Atak survived the encounter, but sustained injuries from being shot in the lung, according to his attorney, William French.

During the trial in that case, French brought a Taser and Glock, a semi-automatic pistol used by police, to court for Judge David Doty to examine. In a court order, Doty said that although the weapons may appear similar, there are significant differences between the two that should prevent an officer from confusing them. For one, the Glock is heavier than a Taser. Additionally, the Rochester officer had to disengage two mechanisms on his security holster in order to draw the Glock, precautions that didn't exist for the Taser. The Taser also has a red laser sight guide that appears when the safety is released.

"These two things are just significantly different ... I don't know how you could confuse them," French said.

Although officers are typically trained to carry stun guns, such as Tasers, on their non-dominant side to avoid confusing them with a firearm, there have been several instances in which officers say they have shot someone with the wrong weapon.

Curfew in place as protests continue

Gov. Tim Walz placed a curfew on four Minnesota counties from 7 p.m. Monday to 6 a.m. Tuesday. The National Guard was deployed to several areas around the Twin Cities to stop any violence.

At least 40 people were arrested, according to MPR, in violence that broke out Sunday evening in Brooklyn Center and Minneapolis.

When the 11th day of the Chauvin trial began Monday, the defense requested that jurors be sequestered, a motion Judge Peter Cahill denied. He also did not permit a re-questioning of jurors to learn what they knew of Wright's shooting. As the prosecution rested its case, the defense began calling witnesses on Tuesday.