Quieter night in Brooklyn Center; Wright family says charge won't bring justice

People hold candles and signs during a protest.
Demonstrators hold candles as they protest ahead in front of the police station in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Thursday.
Kerem Yucel | AFP via Getty Images

Updated: 11:44 a.m.

Hundreds of protesters again filled the streets in front of the police station in Brooklyn Center, where an officer shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop over the weekend.

The protesters — shouting obscenities, shaking the police station’s security fence and occasionally lobbing water bottles — began thinning out as the 10 p.m. curfew approached Thursday. Police did not issue a dispersal order or respond to protesters with tear gas as they had the previous nights. Most of the protesters left by 11 p.m.

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Former police officer Kim Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in Sunday’s shooting of Wright, 20. The former police chief of Brooklyn Center, a majority nonwhite suburb, said Potter had intended to stun the man with her Taser instead of firing her gun. Both the chief and Potter resigned Tuesday.

Potter — who was released on $100,000 bond hours after her Wednesday arrest — appeared alongside her attorney, Earl Gray, at her initial appearance Thursday over Zoom, saying little. Gray kept his camera on himself for most of the hearing, swiveling it only briefly to show Potter. Her next court appearance was set for May 17.

Wright’s death has been followed by protests every night this week outside the city’s police station, with demonstrators sometimes clashing with officers who have driven them away with gas grenades, rubber bullets and long lines of riot police.

The use of tear gas and less-lethal ammunition in previous nights has been criticized by protesters, activists and even the mayor of Brooklyn Center. Gov. Tim Walz responded to the criticism Thursday, saying officials learned lessons from last year's protests after George Floyd's death.  

"Our guidance is only when absolutely necessary to defuse a situation that could become much more dangerous for everybody involved, and to be very, very judicious about that,” Walz said. “I do think that one of the things I learned in May is that as an elected official you cannot sit away from this and put people out there whose lives are in danger and not allow them to make some of those decisions."

While the Thursday night protest in Brooklyn Center focused largely on Wright’s death, some in the crowds noted it came hours after police in Chicago released graphic body camera video of an officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo, a Hispanic boy, in March.

"It is happening in every single city, every single day across the country," Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told protesters early in the evening, before leading them in a chant of "Say his name! Adam Toledo!"

Protesters also tied air fresheners to the fencing at the police station, a nod to Wright’s mother saying that her son told her he had been pulled over for an air freshener dangling from his mirror. Police say Wright was stopped for expired registration.

Air fresheners hang from a fence.
Air fresheners hang from a fence during a protest outside the police station in Brooklyn Center Thursday.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images

Wright’s family members, like the protesters, say there’s no justification for the shooting.

"The last few days everybody has asked me what we want, and the answer is justice. But there’s never going to be justice for us,” said Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, adding that justice would be that her son was still alive. “Justice isn’t even a word for me."

Funeral services for Daunte Wright are set to take place next week in Minneapolis. It’s scheduled for noon Thursday at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, with the Rev. Al Sharpton delivering the eulogy.

During a Thursday news conference with their attorneys, family members said they welcomed the criminal charge against Potter but some questioned why she wasn't charged with murder.

Attorney Ben Crump cited the case of then-Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor, a Black man, who was charged and convicted in 2019 of third-degree murder for killing Justine Ruszczyk, a white woman. Noor fatally shot Ruszczyk, also known as Justine Damond, in July 2017 after she called 911 to report what she thought was a possible sexual assault happening in the alley behind her south Minneapolis home.

A man holds a woman who is grieving.
Katie Wright, Daunte Wright’s mother, is comforted by his father, Arbuey Wright, at a press conference at New Salem Baptist Church in north Minneapolis on Thursday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Crump and other lawyers said more serious charges can be filed against Potter at any time based on the investigation and suggested murder charges should be added.

Potter’s charge of second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Intent isn’t a necessary component of either charge. A key difference is that third-degree murder requires someone to act with a "depraved mind," a term that has been the subject of legal disputes, but includes an act eminently dangerous to others, performed without regard for human life.

Noor testified that he fired to protect his partner's life after hearing a loud bang on the squad car and seeing a woman at his partner's window raising her arm. Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Ruszczyk's hands.

Many critics of the police believe the race of those involved in the Wright shooting played a role in which charges were brought.

"If the officer was Black, perhaps even a minority man, and the victim was a young, white female affluent kid, the chief would have fired him immediately and the county prosecutor would have charged him with murder, without a doubt," Hussein said earlier Thursday.

Potter could have been charged with third-degree murder, which carries a 25-year maximum sentence, said Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. But she noted that Potter will likely argue that using the gun was a mistake, while Noor never said he didn't intend to use his weapon.

"This is kind of the compromise charge, which isn’t to say it’s not serious. It is," Moran said. "But they’re not reaching for the most serious charge they could theoretically file. They’re also not washing their hands and saying she has no criminal liability."

The prosecutor who brought the case, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, did not return messages seeking comment.

Correction (April 23, 2021): Arbuey Wright’s name was misspelled in a caption in an earlier version of this story. The caption has been updated.

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