The Murder of Daunte Wright: Co-optation and Revolt


A Year after the George Floyd Uprising, What Has Changed?


On April 11, 2021, a police officer in the Twin Cities suburb Brooklyn Center pulled over Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, allegedly on account of expired tags. Taking place in the midst of the trial of the police officer who murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis last May, this murder shows that the situation for Black people threatened with police violence has hardly changed since May 2020. There are important conclusions to be drawn from this.

Kim Potter, the police officer who murdered Daunte Wright, was the president of the Brooklyn Center Police Officer’s Association; she has worked for the department for almost 25 years. Although the mayor of Brooklyn Center has tried to excuse the murder as an accident, in the body camera footage, she can be seen handling the gun for several seconds before shooting him. The murder of Daunte Wright is not the result of a lack of training or experience or proper protocols. It is the predictable result of sending armed mercenaries out to terrorize communities with impunity.

Officer Kim Potter and Police Chief of Brooklyn Center Tim Gannon resigned today, but this does nothing to diminish the likelihood that such murders will recur. This is not a matter of a few bad apples.

Last summer’s demonstrations against police murders were ultimately defused in part by politicians’ promises to defund police departments. None of these promises have resulted in meaningful change. Today, those who oppose police killings must recognize that the instructive precedent from the movements of 2020 was the actual destruction of the Third Precinct by grassroots efforts, not any of the reformist efforts that followed. Police abolition is not going to come about via the same channels that maintain the police in the first place.

The anarchist news source It’s Going Down offers an overview of solidarity demonstrations that have taken place around the country in response to the murder of Daunte Wright. While the immediate conditions that caused tens of thousands to enter open struggle against the police in May and June 2020 have shifted with the end of the Trump administration and the receding of the pandemic, the confrontational approach that people employed last summer has become normalized, and the range of tactics that are widely considered legitimate has expanded. This represents a new baseline for struggles against white supremacy and police violence from here forward.

In the following account from Minneapolis, we review the events of the past 48 hours, including the vigil in memory of Daunte Wright.

A cold, rainy spring in Minnesota. A young couple going out, a traffic stop, a life. Daunte Wright, 20 years old, stopped for expired tags, murdered by the state. At the official press conference, in addition to releasing the bodycam footage, Mike Elliot, the first African American Mayor of the suburb Brooklyn Center, claims to believe that the officer, Kim Potter, made a “tragic” mistake, intending to fire her taser but instead firing her pistol in an “accidental discharge.” Yet another accident for the police—yet another death for the people.

Jamar Clark, November 16, 2015—
Philando Castile, July 6, 2016—
George Floyd, May 28, 2020—
Daunte Wright, April 12, 2021.

All young Black men, all in Minnesota, all in Hennepin county, all murdered by police.

While Daunte Wright was going about his day not knowing it would be his last, people around the nation were watching the trial of George Floyd’s murderer. When the police officer pulled him over, the prosecution led by Minnesota Attorney general Keith Ellison was concluding their case to the jury.

The first Muslim to be elected to national office, Keith Ellison represents the best of what electoralism has to offer and is the most progressive part of the Democratic party. His son, Jeremiah Ellison, has been leading the call within the Minneapolis City Council to defund the police; his ex-wife is on the school board, pushing through a new plan to address the achievement gap in Minnesota. Ellison has been a friend to labor and is endorsed by the Farmer Labor party, Minnesota DFL. The Democratic Socialists of America endorsed him in his bid to become Chairman of the Democratic Party in 2017.

The community rose up in response to the murder. Many people took to the streets on Sunday night, with locals and young people in the front. The police response was heavy handed: they attacked the demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons, firing indiscriminately into the residential apartments and low-income housing surrounding the Brooklyn Center police station. Residents fought back, enraged by this blatant disregard for their safety. Pitched battles raged into the night while local businesses burned. The next morning, the news spread that Daunte Wright’s family had called a vigil for 7 pm Monday evening at the intersection of Kathrene Drive and 63rd, where the police had gunned Daunte down in front of his girlfriend.

The state responded by putting a curfew into effect starting at 7 pm and running until 6 am. The vigil was moved to 6 pm.

Since 2020, opponents of police violence have maintained an autonomous zone at George Floyd Square. In the days following the murder of George Floyd, people erected a wooden sculpture of a raised fist in the square, when that square was arguably the focal point of the resistance. Since then, the George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone has been defended by the community and other groups as a space for organizing locally and throughout Minnesota. Community defenders of the George Floyd Square Autonomous Zone brought the sculpture of the fist to the vigil in memory of Daunte Wright, representing collective defense of all Black lives and defiance of the system that takes them.

The fist from George Floyd Square.

Mourners gathered from all across the Twin Cities metropolitan area, descending on the Brooklyn Center police station. Local residents enraged by the police tear-gassing and shooting up their homes with rubber bullets took to the street in the hundreds despite freezing rain. The protest swelled to over 1000 participants by 8 pm; the police precinct was surrounded. Hundreds more protesters circled the area in their cars, honking, blocking traffic, and hampering the police from marshaling their forces. The crowd was lighting off fireworks; the authorities feared another total breakdown of control.

Mayor Mike Elliot called on Minnesota’s Democratic Governor to call in the National Guard as well as officers from other local jurisdictions. Ahead of the verdict in the George Floyd murder trial, an entire emergency plan had been drawn up involving the deployment of over 1000 National Guard troops. Now, as night fell and local residents of the predominantly Black low-income community vented their sadness and rage, the progressive state Democrats decided to unleash the full power and fury of the National Guard and an army of local officers.

People gathering for the vigil for Daunte Wright.

Marching with batons out, the police assaulted mourners and press alike, firing gas, rubber bullets, cracking heads with a methodical fury in order to divide the protesters while armored vehicles established a perimeter. Hundreds were dispersed. Protesters in their cars were pursued and arrested. Repeatedly, when the police stopped a car, they surrounded it and pointed assault rifles in the face of the driver.

In the midst of the chaos, at approximately 11 pm, Mayor Mike Elliot and Attorney General Keith Ellison showed up to plead with the crowd.

Flanked by guardsmen, riot cops, and private armed security, the representatives of the state addressed the demonstrators. “We hear you, please go home,” mayor Mike Elliot pleaded, wearing a military grade helmet, sweating in the freezing rain.

“Get your pigs off the streets!” responded angry mourners.

“I can’t do that, we need—everybody needs—to go home. We hear you.” begged Elliot.

Keith Ellison jumped in. “You know where I was today. You know justice will be served.”

“Like the justice you’re getting for Floyd? We just lost another man out here!” came the response.

“Look, justice will be done, the curfew has been called and y’all need to get back home! We don’t want no more casualties, we don’t want no more martyrs, we don’t want nobody else getting hurt out here tonight!” Ellison withdrew behind the police line.

“We don’t need any more martyrs.” A subtle threat from Attorney General Keith Ellison.

We don’t need any more martyrs. In this exchange, Attorney General Ellison said everything you need to know about electoral reformism and the state. He would have us believe that even as Attorney General, standing with the Mayor, he has no authority over the police or the National Guard. His statement was a threat, implying that lethal force would be used to enforce the curfew if necessary and that he could do nothing to stop it—or else, that he chooses not to.

This helps to explain why demonstrators have continued to utilize tactics that can exert pressure even in the face of coordinated state violence. On the evening of April 11, at least 52 businesses throughout the Twin Cities area had experienced vandalism or looting. By the end of the night following April 12, dozens of businesses had been vandalized and looted once again, including a Target store, a cell phone store, a Dollar Tree at a strip mall at which all the shops were looted, and several other targets in uptown Minneapolis and additional strip malls.

In the end, justice is just us. We are the ones who must determine what the police can get away with, what the consequences are for them and the government that pays them—not the courts run by the same system that sends them out to attack us.

We are standing up in Brooklyn Center. We are standing up in George Floyd Square. We are standing up everywhere.

The verdict on the George Floyd murder case is in—along with the cases of Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and Daunte Wright. These were not accidents, but the inevitable result of the white supremacist violence at the core of the governing institutions of this society. We have to abolish these institutions and the order they maintain. Everyone who stands in the way of this is accessory to murder.