Reckoning With One Police Shooting and Another Police Trial, Minnesota Activists Are Weary, and Wary of Reform Goals

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Protesters march outside the Brooklyn Center police headquarters on April 13, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Protesters march outside the Brooklyn Center police headquarters on April 13, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

Protesters march outside the Brooklyn Center police headquarters on April 13, 2021 in Minnesota. Demonstrations have become a daily occurrence since Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter on April 11. Credit - Stephen Maturen—Getty Images

Oluchi Omeoga, a co-founder of the Minneapolis-based organization Black Visions Collective, was at home on April 11—just a few blocks away from the deli where George Floyd was killed last year—when they first heard about the police shooting of Daunte Wright. Omeoga, who has been engaged in activism and community work for eight years in the city, remembers feeling a mix of rage, sadness and apathy as they digested the news.

“Minnesota cannot get its shit in order,” Omeoga tells TIME. “It’s only been two weeks since the trial started and something like this happens.”

Wright’s death at the hands of Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter is the latest police killing of a Black man to grab the nation’s attention, as the trial for last year’s high-profile police killing of George Floyd is underway mere miles away from Brooklyn Center.

Activists say it’s important to note that the highest concentration of Black people in Minnesota are found in parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as surrounding suburbs like Brooklyn Center. “When we say these three cities are connected, they’re literally connected,” Omeoga says, arguing that the Black population in these areas is stigmatized and overpoliced.

And in Brooklyn Center specifically, the police force is comprised of officers from outside the community—as the city’s Mayor Mike Elliot noted on April 12, no police officers who work in the city live there. One of what many activists argue is the simplest actions police departments can take to build trust, and respect, with the neighborhoods they serve is to hire more community members and engage with community groups.

At the Brooklyn Center police headquarters, meanwhile, a version of the Thin Blue Line banner has continued to flap in the breeze, displayed just below the American flag.

Though Omeoga has not spearheaded any of the organizing happening in Brooklyn Center in response to Wright’s death, they have taken part in the protests. “I think that Minnesota specifically is trying to do their hardest to act like they’re going to make changes that are not actually going to happen,” they say.

In response to the protests, the National Guard, state and local law enforcement—equipped with guns, long batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bangs—have been dispatched each night. (Demonstrations and protests have also been recorded in other major U.S. cities.) On April 13, over 60 people were arrested for unlawful assembly after curfew.

Read more: America’s Policing System Is Broken. It’s Time to Radically Rethink Public Safety

Even with jury deliberations in the Chauvin trial set to begin next week, attention is now shifting between the widely-anticipated verdict and what is likely to be another contentious legal battle. Prosecutors in Washington County charged Potter with second-degree manslaughter over Wright’s death. (Potter appeared briefly in court, via Zoom, on April 15 for a procedural hearing but has otherwise not commented on the shooting; in a letter resigning from the Brooklyn Center Police Department earlier this week, she did not mention Wright’s death but wrote that her resignation would be “in the best interest of the community.”) And for activists already concerned that Chauvin being found guilty—which in itself would be an outlier based on the investigation of previous police killings of civilians—will have little impact on the wider culture of policing, the situation is increasingly untenable.

“I feel like we’re right back where we were last year,” says Marjaan Sirdar, a Minneapolis-based activist; there’s widespread concern that if detractors can’t see the need for police reform when an officer like Potter, “a very senior officer” in the Brooklyn Center police department who was training another officer when she shot Wright, kills an unarmed civilian, then they’ll never be convinced otherwise.

“We’ve been telling people that this is a systemic issue. We’re trying to show people that this how policing works,” Omeoga adds. “Kim Potter was the exemplary police officer. She was the union president. She was training someone that day she killed Wright. If this is the epitome of what an officer should be, then what does that say about other police officers?”

—With reporting from Janell Ross/Minneapolis.

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