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America Reckons With Racial Injustice

'He Was A Prince': Grief And Anger At Daunte Wright's Funeral In Minneapolis

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Family images play on a screen before funeral services for Daunte Wright at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis on Thursday.
John Minchillo, AP

Family images play on a screen before funeral services for Daunte Wright at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis on Thursday.

Updated April 22, 2021 at 2:59 PM ET

Mourners gathered Thursday in Minneapolis for the funeral of Daunte Wright, just two days after a jury there convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd.

Wright was the 20-year-old Black man shot and killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minn., while resisting arrest during a traffic stop earlier this month. Officials characterized the shooting as "accidental," saying the officer, Kim Potter, meant to use her Taser on Wright but mistakenly drew her handgun instead.

Body camera footage of the incident, released by Brooklyn Center officials the day after the shooting, showed Potter shouting, "Taser, Taser, Taser!" just before she fires her handgun. She resigned from her position and has since been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Wright's death, which took place as the Chauvin trial was underway at a courthouse just 10 miles away, immediately prompted protests and outcry.

Thursday's funeral was held at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis, where members of Wright's family spoke, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton and several high-ranking Minnesota Democrats.

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"I never imagined I'd be standing here. The roles should be completely reversed. My son should be burying me," said Katie Wright, Daunte's mother, speaking in front of the closed white coffin piled with red roses.

The Wright family was joined in mourning by family members and loved ones of other Black people killed in high-profile encounters with police, including those of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old Black man killed on the Fruitvale BART platform in Oakland, Calif., whose case has drawn comparisons to Wright's because the officer said at his trial that he mistook his handgun for his Taser.

Sharpton, who memorably eulogized George Floyd last year, delivered the eulogy, recalling someone remarking they'd not seen a funeral procession so large in Minneapolis since the death of Prince.

"I said, 'Well, we came to bury the prince of Brooklyn Center,'" said Sharpton. "You thought he was just some kid with an air freshener. He was a prince. And all of Minneapolis today has stopped to honor the prince of Brooklyn Center."

The reason for the traffic stop that ended in Wright's death has been disputed.

According to Wright's mother, whom Wright called for advice during the traffic stop as officers were reviewing his license and registration, Wright told her they stopped him over an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, which is a minor infraction in Minnesota. Officials say they stopped Wright over expired license registration tags.

Now, air fresheners have become a symbol of Wright's death. Protesters have tied them to the fence erected outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

"We come today as the air fresheners for Minnesota. We trying to get the stench for police brutality out of the atmosphere. We trying to get the stench of racism out of the atmosphere," said Sharpton. "We can't breathe in your stinking air no more."

Sharpton and Benjamin Crump, the prominent civil rights attorney who is representing Wright's family, called on Congress to pass the police reform bill bearing George Floyd's name, as a row of Minnesota politicians, all Democrats, sat behind them on stage, including Gov. Tim Walz, state Attorney General Keith Ellison, Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose district contains Brooklyn Center.

"We have to fight for our children until hell freezes, then we have to be prepared to fight on the ice," said Crump. "They too have a right to life and liberty and the American dream."

"We have to change the status quo so that driving while Black doesn't result in getting shot. This is the urgent task before us," said Klobuchar.

Because Wright's death occurred during the trial of Derek Chauvin, family and activists worried aloud that it meant little had changed since the nationwide wave of protests over Floyd's death.

Sharpton praised Chauvin's guilty verdict and the work of Ellison, whose office handled the prosecution.

"God has turned the page in the state of Minnesota, and we're never going back no more," said Sharpton to applause.

As mourners headed toward the church before the funeral began, a handful of demonstrators gathered on the streets nearby, with one woman waving a Black Lives Matter flag and an artist starting a mural across the street.

"I gotta tell you, I'm just in shock right now. The world shouldn't be like this. We shouldn't be losing friends like this," said Malik Taylor, 24, a childhood friend of Wright's who attended the funeral with another friend, John Mayer Jones, 19, both of Minneapolis.

"I know he wouldn't want me to be sad, but I'm a little sad, a little mad, by the way he died," said Jones. "Nobody expected him to [die] — especially not by the police."

NPR's Liz Baker and David Schaper contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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