As Covid-19 restrictions are decreased or rescinded entirely across the country, the United States is returning to a slew of horrendous American "normals." In 2021, there have been over 130 mass shootings to date. And on Sunday afternoon, another unarmed Black man was shot and killed by police in Minnesota — adding to a list of at least 30 Black men who have been shot and killed by police in the first three months of 2021 alone.
A Brooklyn Center Police Department officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Wright's mother, Katie Wright, told reporters that her son was "driving a car that his family had just given him two weeks ago and that he called her as he was being pulled over," as reported by The New York Times.
"He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror," Wright said, adding that her son's girlfriend was also in the car at the time he was shot. The Brooklyn Center Police Department claims Wright had a warrant for his arrest and was shot after trying to flee.
Wright was shot and killed in the Minneapolis suburb less than 10 miles away from where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is currently on trial for the murder of George Floyd, another unarmed Black man who was killed by police. Massive demonstrations across the globe occurred in the summer of 2020 after the video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck, while he was restrained in handcuffs, for nine minutes and 29 seconds was shared online. While the evidence presented by the prosecution against Chauvin has been damning, the defense has argued that Floyd died as a result of his drug abuse and/or his heart disease, even though the medical examiner and other expert witnesses testified that his death was a direct result of Chauvin's knee on his neck. The defense's arguments, along with the country's history of police officers evading conviction, or even an arraignment, in the killings of unarmed Black men and women have left many skeptical that justice will, in fact, be served.
The police officer shooting of Wright, who was the father of an almost 2-year-old son, occurred in the aftermath of another now-viral video of police officers in Windsor, Virginia pulling over, pepper spraying, threatening, pointing their weapons at, and forcefully detaining Caron Nazario, an unarmed Black man and second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. The incident occurred on December 5, though the footage did not make the rounds on social media until recently. At one point, Nazario, who was wearing his uniform at the time, is seen telling the police officer, Joe Gutierrez, that he is afraid to exit his vehicle, "Yeah," Gutierrez responded. "You should be."
Nazario sued the two officers involved in the incident on April 2, accusing both of using excessive force and violating his constitutional rights. In an online statement posted on Sunday, officials announced that Gutierrez had been terminated from his employment, saying in part: "We are saddened for events like this to cast our community in a negative light."
But whether it's Minneapolis, Louisville, Los Angeles, Staten Island, Ferguson, Vallejo, Waller County, Cleveland, Brooklyn Center, or the small town of Windsor, it's clear that any town, regardless of size or location, that is home to a well-funded police force could end up in the center of another unlawful detention or killing of an unarmed Black person. This is not a specific town's problem. This is not a "Black people" problem. This is a police problem, and it's one that every police department must reckon with, address, and fix.
Since 2015, police officers across the country have shot and killed at least 135 unarmed Black men and women, per an early 2021 NPR investigation. That a Black man was shot and killed by police just 10 miles away from the murder trial of a former police officer who allegedly suffocated an unarmed Black man to death is not a coincidence: it's a referendum on a country that spends more money on militarized and well-documented racist police forces than grassroots organizations and community outreach initiatives. The FBI warned of white supremacist groups infiltrating police departments 15 years ago. Studies have shown that community-based interventions, and not an expansive police presence, cause a decline in violent crime. And yet police budgets range from over $100 million a year in places like Virginia Beach, Virginia to $5 billion a year in places like New York City.
Sadly, this country will continue to bear witness to these types of atrocities until police departments nationwide are held accountable — by communities, by elected officials, and by themselves. And while police reform can feel insurmountable given the hesitancy of seemingly everyone in positions of power, it is not impossible. On Saturday, Maryland became the first state to repeal its Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, setting "new rules for when police may use force and how they are investigated and disciplined," as reported by The Washington Post. In the wake of Floyd's death, lawmakers in 16 states introduced bills to improve police oversight and accountability.
On Sunday night, protestors gathered in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, demanding justice and accountability for Wright's shooting — a common scene in the United States. But it's the comments of Kimberly Lovett, a former property manager of four buildings near the police station, that truly encapsulate the problem with ridiculously funded, militarized police forces. Lovett attended the protests to check on her former tenants and express her frustration, and told reporters the following:
"There are kids in all of these buildings," she said, commenting on the flashbangs and gas being deployed by police on the protestors. "What we're fed up with is the police steady killing young Black men."