MINNEAPOLIS (REUTERS) - The suburban Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot a Black motorist during an encounter that began as a routine traffic stop, and the police chief who called the slaying an apparent accident, both resigned on Tuesday (April 13) following two nights of civil unrest.
The mayor of Brooklyn Centre, which is adjacent to Minnesota’s largest city, said the two tendered their resignations a day after the chief told a news briefing that the officer who shot Daunte Wright, 20, on Sunday appeared to have drawn her gun rather than her Taser by mistake.
Mayor Mike Elliott also told reporters the City Council had passed a resolution calling for the dismissal of both the chief, Tim Gannon, and the officer in question, Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the police force.
“I’m hoping this will bring some calm to the community,” Elliott said, adding he had yet to accept Potter’s resignation, leaving open the door to firing her.
“We want to send a message to the community that we are taking this situation seriously.” Terminating Potter’s employment, rather than allowing her to resign, could adversely affect her pension and ability to find work in law enforcement elsewhere.
The move followed two nights of protests and clashes between demonstrators and police in Brooklyn Centre, part of a region already on edge over the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman charged with murdering George Floyd last May.
Floyd, 46, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin’s knee, became the face of a national movement against racial injustice and police violence as protests against his killing swept the United States last summer in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amid snowfall on Tuesday evening, hundreds protesting Wright’s slaying marched from police headquarters in Brooklyn Center to an FBI field office, chanting: “No justice, no peace, prosecute the police.”
The rally was peaceful, with National Guard troops and law enforcement keeping a low profile in patrol vehicles stationed nearby. The crowd dispersed on its own as the snow grew heavier and temperatures plunged around nightfall, ahead of a curfew rolled back three hours by authorities to 10pm.
By contrast, scores of arrests were made on Sunday and Monday nights amid scattered looting and raucous demonstrations in which police fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators hurling bottles and other projectiles.
As the mayor spoke earlier on Tuesday, Wright’s relatives and supporters assembled near the Minneapolis courthouse where Chauvin is standing trial, and recounted for reporters the anguish of Wright’s loss.
A young father who struggled with a learning disability and dropped out of high school a few years ago, Wright was remembered as a good-natured, loving individual who worked multiple jobs to support his 2-year-old son.
In a sign of the commonality of experience confronting so many African Americans, Floyd’s two brothers appeared at the news conference along with Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, who embraced Wright’s mother, Katie, and mentioned she had known Daunte Wright for years, having once been his teacher.
Wright’s ill-fated encounter with law enforcement began when he was pulled over for what police said was an expired auto registration.
According to Gannon, officers then discovered an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and when Wright broke away from one officer and climbed back into his car, the second officer, since identified as Potter, accidentally drew her pistol instead of her Taser and opened fire.
An autopsy found Wright was struck once in the chest. Potter can be heard on police video that captured the confrontation shouting: “Holy shit, I just shot him.” The car then rolled away with Wright still in the driver’s until it struck another vehicle and came to a stop.
Mother: 'My son was unresponsive'
Outside of the Minneapolis courthouse, family members recounted the events that led to Wright's death at a press conference with their attorney Ben Crump.
His mother, Katie Wright, said her son called her after he was pulled over on Sunday and said he was being stopped because he had air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror, which is illegal in the state.
After offering to mediate, the mother said she heard an officer asking a confused Wright to get out of the vehicle and then scuffling and an officer asking her son to hang up the phone. She said she kept calling him back, to no avail.
She said the girl in the car with her son eventually picked up the phone and, amid cries and screams, told her Daunte had been shot.
"She pointed the phone toward the driver's seat and my son was laying there, unresponsive," Katie Wright said as she wept. "That was the last time that I've seen my son."
Wright was killed just 10 miles (16 km) from where Floyd, 46, lost his life while under arrest for allegedly passing a bogus $20 bill, unleashing a months-long nationwide upheaval of protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
Officials in Brooklyn Centre were bracing for a third night of unrest. Hundreds of protesters clashed with law enforcement outside police headquarters on Monday in defiance of a curfew ordered by Walz. Police reported 40 arrests in the town for offenses ranging from curfew violations to rioting, and three officers suffered minor injuries, authorities said late on Monday night.
Elliott, who took command of the police on Monday after the city council fired the city manager, said he believed the protesters were motivated by fear for their own safety, not a desire to destroy.
"What I saw was young people, many of whom looked - all of them look like Daunte," said Elliott, who is also African American. "And I could feel their pain. I could feel their anger. I can feel their fear."