Most of the world knows by now that on the afternoon of April 11th, a 20-year-old Black man named Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer in an inner-ring suburb of the city I call home: Minneapolis.
Most of the world is watching Minneapolis as Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck, is tried on charges of manslaughter and homicide. Several hours before I typed this, the defense rested their case. My city, tense since May, has the breath-holding feel of a man walking a tightrope as it waits for the jury to hand down a verdict: was George Floyd’s death murder, or was it accidental?
Most of the world has an opinion on that, as well as an opinion on the death of Daunte Wright. Was Daunte’s death deliberate, or was it accidental?
No comment from the shooter, Officer Kim Potter, who resigned from the police force on April 13th.
I believe it is worth noting several things about Ms. Potter here.
First, she did not live in Brooklyn Center — in fact, none of the Brooklyn Center police officers live in that suburb.
Second, Ms. Potter immediately relocated herself and her entire family out of Minnesota within 48 hours of Daunte Wright’s death, implying that the magnitude of this event was not lost on her.
Finally, she was responsible for training other police officers on the Brooklyn Center police force, instilling both the spoken and unspoken curriculum and culture of that police force in new hires.
“Accidental,” said Tim Gannon, former Brooklyn Center police chief, reporting that he had watched the body cam footage without giving further detail at that time.
To his credit, he released bodycam footage within 24 hours and resigned from office before 72 hours had passed. To his detriment, he characterized the shooting as an “accidental discharge” within 12 hours of Daunte’s death.
Deliberate! No justice, no peace! Hands up, don’t shoot! Shout the signs of the protesters outside the police station.
Tonight, no one has yet deployed chemical agents or less-lethal rounds. This is likely a relief for the tenants of the apartment building across the narrow street, where infants and toddlers live. I remember how it felt to breathe tear gas as an adult last May, as the “crowd control measures” rolled through my neighborhood with the wind and every mucous membrane reacted.
My opinion is built from my years as a pediatrician with a focus in complex care and disability. It is built from my years as the mother of a son who is both disabled and a POC — who was tiny and adorable once, but who is an adult who could be viewed as a threat now.
Daunte Wright was tiny once.
Daunte Wright was someone’s son.
Daunte Wright was disabled.
He had a learning disability. He never graduated from high school.
This is where the holes in the Swiss cheese line up and the double burden of racism and ableism create a load for disabled POC youth like Daunte and my son— a load that is lethal under “the right,” all too common circumstances.
Daunte told his mother he was pulled over for a “dangling air freshener,” which is, indeed, against the law in Minnesota (although this has been challenged several times). The ACLU has challenged this law as being the basis for pretextual stops, targeting persons of color. (As an example, for WNBA fans? In 2012, Lynx player Seimone Augustus was pulled over for the same reason — and then questioned about her out-of-state license plates, being at a suburban mall and theft at the mall.)
Officer Potter was clearly agitated in the body cam footage. If Daunte had been white, I wonder if she would have been that agitated, shouting, “I’m going to tase you! Taser! Taser!”
A large body of research spanning decades clearly shows that stress and agitation shut down the prefrontal cortex that enhances planning and decision-making capacity.
Daunte was Black, male, adult and struggling. Potter was agitated, stressed and had two weapons at hand as well as — at the least— institutional racism and bias influencing her actions.
Daunte had a learning disability. Again, research shows us that under stress, higher brain functions shut down, and those brain functions include complex things like verbal communication. Even individuals without a disability want to get away from whatever is causing stress and often do not process what is being said to them well or efficiently.
In the bodycam footage, someone has grabbed one of Daunte’s wrists; several people are talking at loud volume, hands are reaching his direction. The situation is chaotic and noisy … not optimal for someone with a learning disability.
If he were eight, we would think, “Of course he isn’t listening.”
If he had Down syndrome, trisomy 18, cri-du-chat, or was in a wheelchair, we would think, “Of course he isn’t cooperating.”
Just because Daunte’s disability is invisible, no one bothers to check for it, and we think, “My God, why doesn’t he just stand still?”
The holes in the Swiss cheese line up. And that double burden of assumptions lands squarely on the victim, dragging him down with a bullet in his chest and a diagnosis of homicide, made at the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office.
Here’s the thing about the holes in the Swiss cheese being lined up: when you can see all the way through the holes to that end result, the people gathered and mourning around their fallen loved one can see you right back.
So now? Now you have a choice.
You can choose to look away, and let that double burden continue to kill disabled people of color. You can do nothing, and nothing will change.
Or you can choose to act.
You can ask the questions that stand at the heart of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice:
Who is in the room?
Who is trying to get into the room but can’t?
Has everyone’s idea been heard?
Whose ideas won’t be taken seriously because they aren’t in the majority?
Or just ask the simplest question of all:
What would love do?
Stella Evans is a pediatrician.
mage credit: Shutterstock.com