Deeper Intentions and the Life of Daunte Wright

Deeper Intentions and the Life of Daunte Wright

At the very same time the trial against Derek Chauvin is unfolding in Minneapolis, another Black man, Daunte Wright, has been killed by a police officer in nearby Brooklyn Center.  George Floyd, as is well known and viscerally horrifying, was killed by Chauvin as the now-former officer pressed down on his neck for nine and one-half minutes, ignoring pleas for mercy and for justice.  The intention to use force was clear. The trial will determine if nine and a half minutes of application of such force can be equated to murderous intent or, possibly, the less severe charge of manslaughter.

In Brooklyn Center, however, there is every reason to believe that now resigned 26-year veteran Kimberly Potter did not intend to use deadly force, On the body cam video, she is heard yelling “taser, taser, taser” before reacting with horror that she had in fact drawn her gun and shot Daunte Wright rather than discharge her taser after he jerked away from her. In her case, the question will be for many how someone could be so negligent as to mistake a gun for a taser.  My question, however, is how a man’s life could be seen as so negligible that the procedures used to apprehend him while driving would be both so haphazard and confrontational that a deadly scenario would so easily come into play.

The intentions of a system that chooses to place officers in a role of constant and heightened conflict and makes every bias more dangerous, is more relevant than the intentions of Kimberly Potter. Chances are pretty high that Kimberly Potter did not say to herself  I am going to shoot this man because he is a Black person. Chances are also pretty high that as she approached the car she was particularly concerned that this man, a Black man, a man who fits a certain profile, could be assumed to be very dangerous and any sign of resistance necessitated subduing him with such urgency that she couldn’t even ascertain what weapon was in her hand. The intention of a system that intimidates, controls, and punishes disobedience is why Daunte Wright was shot dead.

While the cruelty of Derek Chauvin stands out and certainly evokes the image of one with virulent contempt for the Black man beneath his knee, it is Kimberly Potter’s horrendous mistake that incriminates law enforcement writ large as it is approached and practiced.  There are certainly officers who use the power of the badge to inflict suffering on others with near impunity and certainly, there are those who have contempt for Black people or for others that have been subject to discrimination and mistreatment in this country.  The consistent and justified fear of police violence, however, comes from the fact that those who really do want to dedicate their lives and livelihood to helping all people, including the many officers who are Black or People of Color across the spectrum, must do so with the expectations and experience that places them in the same situation, the same heightened risks and, terribly, sometimes the same results as occurred when Daunte Wright put under arrest for an outstanding warrant.  Mr. Wright’s life and wellbeing were already deemed expendable when the car was pulled over. His life was negligible before the officer had a chance to be negligent.


Michael Bernstein

Michael Bernstein, a Rabbi, has served since 2009 as Rabbi of Congregation Gesher L'Torah, a vibrant and dynamic Synagogue community in north Atlanta where each person's story is embraced and Judaism is personal. He was ordained as a conservative Rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in 1999. He and his wife Tracie have three children, Ayelet, Yaron and Liana.

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