Everyone can agree that officers should not accidentally fire their pistols when they intend to use their tasers. But there is wide disagreement over how much blame is shared by the civilian for the use of force. The killing of Daunte Wright shows that some downplay or even omit the civilians actions altogether. Resisting arrest is illegal precisely because it can lead to violence by officers and suspects, as well as fatal accidents. One overlooked lesson from Daunte Wright’s tragic death is that Wright himself had the power to save his own life by simply following the rules.
Police pulled over Daunte Wright for expired registration tags. As he was being pulled over, he called his mother and told her that he was being pulled over for hanging air fresheners from his rear-view window. Officers checked to see if Wright had any outstanding warrants. He had a pending case for robbing a woman at gunpoint, strangling her, and reaching into her bra for $820.
They asked him to step out of the car. He complied. The officer closest to Wright told him that he was under arrest. He explained that he was being arrested because he had an outstanding warrant. A second officer, Kim Potter, also told Wright that he had a warrant. The arresting officer pulled out his handcuffs and attempted to cuff up Wrights left wrist. The officer noticed that Wright began to resist, and said “don’t, don’t” as he put his handcuffs back on his belt. One of the officers said, “Daunte don’t run!” The officer continued, “don’t do it, don’t do it.” Wright pulled his right wrist away from the officer and jumped back in the car.
The officer tried to grab Wright back out of the car. Officer Potter moved around behind the arrest officer and shouted, “I’ll tase you!” But her body camera shows that she was holding her pistol, not a taser. Wright continued to try to fight off the arresting officer, who is trying to remove him from the car. Potter again yelled, “I’ll tase you!” Wright continued to fight to stay in the car. Potter yells, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” The arresting officer jumped away from Wright. Potter had a clear line of sight to Wright. She shot her pistol.
Potter hears the sound of a single shot and appears to realize what she has done. She says, “Shit!” She reaches out to Wright. He drives his car away at high speed. Potter says, “I just shot him!” The car traveled several blocks and crashed into another car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Daunte Wright Put Himself in a Bad Position
Daunte Wright tried to avoid being handcuffed. You can’t do that. That is not an option during an encounter with police. There is no easier way to get the police to use force than to fight a handcuffing. If someone believes they are innocent, that still does not entitled them to refuse to be handcuffed or arrested.
Daunte Wright ignored the arresting officer’s warnings not to flee. He was told twice, “don’t do it.” He still pulled away and jumped in his car. When the officers did not let him flee and tried to remove him from the car, he tried to fight them off. That is illegal. He ignored Officer Potters first warning that she was going to use her taser. He ignored her second warning. When she yelled “Taser! Taser! Taser!” he still did not stop. Those actions are not just bad decisions, they are separate crimes: resisting arrest.
Certainly, Officer Potter made a fatal mistake. So did Daunte Wright. He should not have resisted handcuffing. He should not have jumped back in his car to flee. He should have complied with officers orders to stop fighting. He should have given up when he was warned that he would be tased. If he had done any of these things, he would be alive today. He had the power to save his own life. He put himself in a situation where an officer’s mistake could kill him. And that’s exactly what happened.
Fight Your Arrest in Court, Not on the Street
The police are allowed to arrest you if they think you committed a crime. They are allowed to arrest you if they find a warrant issued by a judge. In these situations, you have no choice in the matter. You can’t run off if you don’t like it. You can’t drive your car home or call your mother first.
Sometimes, the police arrest people that later turn out to be innocent. The courtroom is where this proof happens. You can’t just tell the police “I didn’t do anything” and then leave. That’s not how it works. You can’t say, “it wasn’t me.” Police are not required to explain why they are arresting you and then listen to you argue with them about it. You have a right to do that in the courtroom, not on the street.
There’s a third situation. Sometimes police arrest someone without probable cause, for no good reason. You can make a complaint in that situation. You can sue the officer and the police department for money. And you can get your criminal charges dismissed. All of these things, however, happen after the arrest. You cannot hop in your car and drive away. You can’t take a swing at the officer. If you see this happening to someone, you can’t grab them out of police custody. You have to go to court.
Media Should Not Make It Seem Like There Was Nothing Daunte Wright Could Do
The New York Times wrote, “a veteran white officer pulled and fired her firearm instead of her Taser as officers tried to handcuff him.” The Wall Street Journal wrote, “the officer shot Mr. Wright after he re-entered his car.” On the WSJ podcast, a reporter said, “there is a brief scuffle, where he tries to get back in the car; they’re trying to pull him out.” The Guardian wrote, “Police said they pulled Wright over for a traffic violation. He was found to have an existing warrant, and police tried to arrest him. Wright went back into his vehicle, police shot at the vehicle; Wright was struck and he crashed several blocks later.”
The NYT omits the officer’s warnings to Wright not to flee, Wright’s attempt to pull away from the officers, Wright’s attempt to enter his car and flee, and Wright’s physical resistance when officers tried to remove him from the car. Instead, they report that officers simply killed Wright as they attempted to handcuff him. This is not accurate and gives the impression that Wright had no role in what happened In fact, Wright put himself in that position and repeatedly refused to do things that would have de-escalated it.
The WSJ is worse. Their readers learn that the killing happened while Wright “re-entered his car.” For all they know, he could have simply been getting his wallet, or about to leave the scene. This is extremely misleading. A WSJ reporter discussing the incident on a podcast was even worse. She describes Wright’s physical resistance as a scuffle. Two brothers get into a scuffle. A scuffle implies both sides are fighting and both sides are to blame. It’s not a scuffle when a criminal defendant, on the run from a warrant, is physical resisting police officers, who are acting lawfully. It’s not a scuffle when one person is breaking the law and another is simply doing their job.
Finally, the Guardian simply describes Wright as going back to his vehicle when police shot at him. Without context, the Guardian, like the NYT and the WSJ, make it appear that Wright was doing nothing wrong when he was shot. In fact, the Guardian simply omitted all the things Wright did wrong, allowing their reader to be mislead.
This is a problem because of what happens afterwards. Readers of these papers, not to mention those in the community who are hearing about this second-hand, falsely believe that police shot a man who wasn’t doing anything. They falsely believe that there was nothing this man could have done to prevent the police from shooting him. They may understandably infer that they too can be shot by police for doing nothing. They get frightened and angry because of this misleading coverage. They grow suspicious of the police because of this misleading coverage. And race-relations deteriorate because of this misleading coverage.
Police shootings don’t just happen randomly, like getting caught in the rain or catching a cold. People need to understand that the police don’t randomly use force during traffic stops. Whether force is used depends almost entirely on what the civilian does. When media make this shooting seem more outrageous than it was, they are actively harming our communities, and they share responsibility for violence that inevitably follows.
Daunte Wright Had Plenty of Experience With the Criminal Justice System
At the time of the stop, Wright was facing charges for first-degree aggravated robbery with a gun. Wright and another man, Emajay Driver, went to a party in Minnesota in December 2019. They spent the night with two women, and in the morning, one woman paid the other $820 for rent and left. The woman tried to leave with the money, but Daunte Wright prevented her. Wright then allegedly pulled a black handgun “with silver trim out from either his right waistband or his right coat pocket,” pointed it at the woman and demanded the $820. He said, “Give me the fucking money, I know you have it.” He said, “I’m not playing around.” He grabbed the victim around the neck with one hand and reached into her bra with the other hand to grab the money. The victim started to scream. Wright said that he would shoot her and again demanded the money. He began to strangle her a second time and tried to reach into her bra again. Emajay Driver told Wright that they had to leave because the cops were coming. They left without finding the money. The victims reported the crime. Judge Janet Poston found probable cause to believe the charges were true and issued a warrant for Wright’s arrest. Wright was released on bail. You can read the court documents yourself:
While on bail, he was told to check in with a probation officer and not to carry a gun. Wright was caught with a gun by Minneapolis police in June, but he fled the police. This led to a new round of charges and a warrant for his arrest. His bail on the robbery and strangulation case was revoked based on the new gun and flight case. Wright was also not keeping in touch with his probation officer.
Daunte Wright Had the Power to Save His Own Life
It’s clear that Wright’s actions during the fatal traffic stop put himself in a situation was force was necessary. Then, Officer Potter made a terrible mistake and killed him accidentally. Had Wright followed the rules, he would be alive today. But you can go back even further. If Wright had not robbed a woman at gunpoint, strangled her, and groped around her bra for $820, he would not have started down this road at all. He could have followed his bail conditions and refused to carry a gun. If he had done that, there would be no warrant. But he didn’t. He could have complied with the police after being caught with a gun, but he fled. He could have avoided new gun charges and a new warrant, but he didn’t. He could have shown up to court, but he went on the run. Doing the right thing in any one of these situations would have saved his life. He had multiple offramps but his bad decisions kept leading to the traffic stop that cost him his life.
There are two lessons from Daunte Wright’s death. First, officers need to be careful to distinguish their taser from their pistol. Second, don’t put yourself in a situation where an officer has to use force on you, because you never know what will happen.
On Vox, Alexis Harris wrote, “they found a warrant for his arrest: a non-court appearance that most likely was connected to an unpaid $346 in court fines and fees related to a cannabis and disorderly conduct conviction.” She cites to a Twitter account from Billy Corben, a self-described “Florida Man” and director. Seriously, that’s her source for claiming there was no reason to pull over Daunte Wright. Literally the same Twitter account has pictures showing a warrant for carrying a pistol and fleeing the police. The posts are dated three days before Harris’s article. So, even assuming that it’s OK to get your facts from Florida men on Twitter (which it isn’t) this journalist ignored the more serious crimes and misrepresented the facts. Read the shoddy reporting in Vox and tweets yourself:
Officer Potter was arrested and released on bail. Here is her mugshot:
Incredibly, an actress on The View suggested that the officer that shot Daunte Wright intentionally killed him.