Daunte Wright, the young Black man shot by police during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis, was remembered Thursday at a funeral just two days after a former police officer was convicted in the death of George Floyd and amid a national reckoning on racism and policing.
Wright was not “just some kid with an air freshener,” but a “prince” whose life ended too soon at the hands of police, the Rev. Al Sharpton said Thursday during an emotional funeral.
“The absence of justice is the absence of peace,” Sharpton said. “You can’t tell us to shut up and suffer. We must speak up when there is an injustice.”
The civil rights leader's thundering eulogy included a stinging rebuke of the possibility that Wright was pulled over for having air fresheners dangling from his mirror. Wright’s mother has said her son called her after he was stopped and told her that was the reason. Police said it was for expired registration.
Hundreds of mourners wearing COVID-19 masks packed into Shiloh Temple International Ministries to remember Wright, a 20-year-old father of one who was shot by a police officer on April 11 in the small city of Brooklyn Center.
“We lose George Floyd over an allegedly forged $20 bill and Daunte Wright over some expired (vehicle) tags — aren't our lives worth more than that?" Sharpton said.
Sharpton used his remarks to remind those in attendance or watching from afar that the fight for justice didn’t end when white former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter for holding a knee to Floyd’s neck, choking off his breathing until he went limp last May.
“We should not think that, because we won one battle with Chauvin, the war is over, or that if we do not get justice for this case, that we will undo what we were able to do with George Floyd," Sharpton said. "This is round two, and we must win this round.”
At Floyd’s Minneapolis funeral last year, Sharpton put Floyd’s death in the context of brutality long felt by Blacks in America, saying: “The reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to be is you kept your knee on our neck.”
“What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country,” Sharpton said at the time. “It’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say, ‘Get your knee off our neck!’”
Among those attending Wright's funeral were Valerie Castile, whose son Philando Castile died after being shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb in 2016, and Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who was filmed saying “I can’t breathe” in a fatal 2014 encounter with New York City police. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Gov. Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also attended.
More than a dozen members from an armed team of local men, the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, provided security.
Wright’s killing set off protests in Brooklyn Center, a working-class, majority nonwhite city, with hundreds of people gathering every night for a week outside the city’s heavily guarded police station. While the mayor called for law enforcement and protesters to scale back their tactics, the nights often ended with demonstrators lobbing water bottles and rocks at the officers, and law enforcement responding with pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets.
The police chief said it appeared from body camera video that the officer who shot Wright used her pistol when she meant to use her Taser. The white officer, 26-year veteran Kim Potter, is charged with second-degree manslaughter. Both she and the chief resigned soon after the shooting.
Wright’s killing came amid increasing tension during the weekslong trial of Chauvin. By the day of the verdict, more than 3,000 National Guard soldiers had flooded the area, along with police, state troopers and other law enforcement officers.
Minneapolis residents who peacefully celebrated Tuesday's guilty verdicts had barely one full day before attention turned to burying Wright.
Daunte Wright Shooting Coverage
At a viewing for Wright on Wednesday, friends and family members wept as they stood before Wright’s open casket, which was blanketed with red roses. Inside the open casket, the young man was dressed in a jean jacket bedazzled with several red and green gem-like buttons on the lapels.
An obituary handed out at the memorial recalled Wright’s love of Fourth of July fireworks, the “lemon head” nickname bestowed by an aunt and the months he spent in a hospital intensive care unit when his son was born prematurely.
Wright was pulled over on a Sunday afternoon. His mother said he called her to say he was stopped for having air fresheners hanging from his rear-view mirror — a traffic violation in Minnesota. Police said he was stopped for having an expired car registration.
The shooting occurred when a scuffle broke out as police tried to arrest Wright, after realizing he had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court on charges of fleeing police and having a gun without a permit.