Kelly Bryant arrived for nephew Daunte Wright’s viewing this week to find the church guarded by a dozen members of the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, a Black militia armed with AR-15-style rifles.
It was just a day after a jury had convicted white former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin of murdering a Black man, George Floyd, 46, last May. The city was still tense as it prepared for Wright’s funeral on Thursday. The 20-year-old Black father was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop on April 11 in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb.
An initial department review found that the officer who shot Wright — Kim Potter — a 26-year veteran of the police force who has since resigned, mistook her gun for a Taser. Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Graphic police body-camera video released after the shooting sparked protests outside the Police Department and calls for Potter to be charged with murder. Officers in riot gear used tear gas and wooden batons in clashes with demonstrators last week. Brooklyn Center’s mayor issued a curfew for the city of about 30,000 residents, but lifted it late Wednesday after several peaceful nights.
Bryant, 41, a gas station assistant manager from Hudson, Wis., credited protesters with supporting the family, especially her sister Katie Wright, Daunte Wright’s mother.
“They’ve been by Katie’s side this whole time. That means a lot to us,” Bryant said after attending Wright’s viewing Wednesday. “I felt safe coming in here.”
But she added, “I’ve never been to a funeral with AR-15s.”
Bryant and other relatives wore T-shirts bearing a photo of Wright and his namesake 1-year-old son that read, “Justice for Daunte.”
“We want justice, for [Potter] to be held accountable,” said Bryant’s friend Christal Luellen, 40, as she stood with Bryant in the lobby of Shiloh Temple International Ministries in northern Minneapolis, where his funeral was set for noon on Thursday.
“We definitely hope it stays peaceful,” Luellen said.
Wright’s parents and other relatives filed past his open white casket adorned with red roses at the start of Wednesday’s viewing.
Then members of the public were allowed to file through.
One visitor brought a bouquet of multicolored flowers. Another hugged Wright’s mother. Several accepted tissues from a chaplain and dabbed at their eyes.
“He became the child of America,” family attorney Benjamin Crump told the crowd of about 100, then turned to address the Wrights: “You won’t be fighting alone. We’ll be fighting with you in and outside the courtroom.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who eulogized Floyd last year and is scheduled to deliver the eulogy at Wright’s funeral, said Chauvin’s guilty verdict doesn’t let Minnesota off the hook.
“Minnesota doesn’t have the right to talk about what it did right until they get this right,” he said. “Don’t tell us what you did for George Floyd and ignore what happened to Daunte Wright."
“They’re an interracial family that believe in harmony and love,” Sharpton said of the Wrights.
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, nodded and applauded.
When police stopped Daunte Wright earlier this month for expired tags, he had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant for charges from March that alleged he possessed a pistol without a permit and fled a police officer. Sharpton said Wright’s record was irrelevant.
“Don’t put Daunte on trial,” he said, when Potter is the one facing charges. “She shot him. He didn’t shoot nobody.”
Wright’s aunt agreed. “Daunte wasn’t an angel. We all have said it. But he also was young enough to get his life on the right path,” Bryant said — if he had lived.
She said she has reached out to the mother of Ma’Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old Black girl, no relation, who was fatally shot by police Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.
“We need to shine a spotlight on all these cops. We need to hold every one of them accountable,” her friend Luellen said.
Bryant added: “Or else it will happen to someone else’s kids.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.