As It Happens·Q&A

'We cannot live this way': Minnesota council member after latest fatal police shooting

Brooklyn Park council member Wynfred Russell says residents are feeling angry and deeply afraid after a 20-year-old Black man was shot and killed during a police traffic stop.

20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot and killed during traffic stop in Brooklyn Center

A man throws a rock at a police car as protesters clash with the police after an officer shot and killed Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AFP via Getty Images)

Story Transcript

A councillor from Brooklyn Park, Minn., says he understands the rage and grief of residents in the wake of the police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man, identified by family as Daunte Wright.

Wright's death on Sunday in nearby Brooklyn Center sparked violent protests, with officers in riot gear clashing with demonstrators into Monday morning.

On Monday, the city's police chief revealed that after watching video of the killing, he believes the officer who shot Wright apparently intended to fire a Taser, not a handgun

Both Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center are suburbs of Minneapolis, where the trial of Derek Chauvin — the police officer charged with murdering George Floyd — continues. 

Wynfred Russell, who represents the West District in Brooklyn Park, told As It Happens host Carol Off that people now need the space to express their deep pain and frustration — and that police culture and training need to permanently change. 

Here is part of their conversation.

Mr. Russell, how did you react when you heard the Brooklyn Center police chief confirm that the shot that killed Daunte Wright was an accidental discharge?

Well, very dismayed and again angry and saddened by all of this. And to think that she, apparently, mistook a gun for a taser is just shocking. What kind of training are these police officers getting?

Do you have any sense of what happened that led to Daunte Wright's death?

No, I don't have all of the details. I mean, it sounds to me like a very routine traffic stop, at least based on the briefing that I received.

Brooklyn Park council member Wynfred Russell says he feels a mixture of anger and sadness in the wake of Wright's death on Sunday. (Wynfred Russell/Facebook)

But a very routine traffic stop that led police to say that they were going to arrest him, they had a warrant. What can you tell us about that?

Well, they said they they had a warrant out for his arrest. And so that's what prompted them to try to arrest him. But they have not given any details, at least I have not heard any details, as to what the warrant was for.

The man's mother says that the very routine traffic stop was that he had air fresheners in his rear view mirror. That's what he was saying to her, he was on the phone with her when this happened. And some media is reporting that the warrant was that he failed to appear in court on two misdemeanour charges. How would that escalate to the point where he was going to be arrested?

That is very troubling. 

The police, again, have not gone into detail as to how that all escalated to the level to where this young man lost his life. I mean, I think what we're seeing here now is that police culture and the mindset must change.

The objective must be that the police treat everyone, all adults, all residents, all races, and all young people, alike, with great deference. And I don't think that's part of what we saw happen here. 

The police officer who killed George Floyd, Derek Chauvin, we know is on trial right now, as we speak. Just how tense are things in Minneapolis right now?

Things are pretty tense, especially within communities of colour. Brooklyn Center is a first ring suburb and Brooklyn Park is the second ring suburb [of Minneapolis].

As a Black man, as an immigrant Black man, in this country, I'm afraid.- Wynfred Russell

These two cities are the most diverse part of the state of Minnesota. So the emotions here are very, very raw. One of the things that I'm trying to do is support the authorities and support the mayor, but also make it safe for everybody and give people an opportunity where they can express themselves, where they can peacefully protest.

So right now there's a lot of anxiety, and we had some damage to properties last night in both Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park. And the governor has issued a curfew for this area.

We want to be sure that people are safe and the properties are well protected, but also give people the opportunity where they can vent their anger, where they can protest.

What we understand is that Daunte may have been trying to get away from the police. Would he have felt afraid of the police that had stopped him?

Of course. I mean, folks are afraid of the police, you know, especially Black men. So it makes sense to me that he would be afraid, you know, as a Black man myself, and try to leave.

It's just that sort of impulsive reaction, and to get killed because of that.... I don't understand what part of the training, and I don't think it's part of the training, and I'll be having a briefing later on with our police chief to find out.

People gather at the spot where Daunte Wright was shot on Sunday during a traffic stop. (AFP via Getty Images)

Why would somebody get shot? Apparently he was unarmed and fleeing from the police. Why shoot him? There must be a conscious recognition by the police that Black life, you know, demands more than just the latest training, or some sort of adherence to the best-practise protocols.

There has to be a dramatic paradigm shift in police and community interaction. This cannot continue to happen.

What are you expecting on the streets tonight?

Well, I'm not sure.... That's why we are trying to pre-empt by putting in place a curfew, enforcing the curfew, and have our law enforcement authorities all around.

But we'll also be stressing in our emergency city council meeting that people are given protection and are given the space to be able to vent their anger and to be able to protest, as long as they're doing it peacefully.

I think we focus a lot on the destruction and the looting and all of that, but we forget about what is causing all of that, what's causing people to get on the streets.

They see this, they hear this, they feel this, day in day out. As a Black man, as an immigrant Black man, in this country, I'm afraid. Even though I'm an elected official. People are afraid of the police, and we cannot live this way. It cannot continue to go along like this.

Police officers in riot gear fire tear gas in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Station. Officers and protesters clashed into the early hours of Monday morning. (AFP via Getty Images)

Written by Kate McGillivray. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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