I don't believe I can be Black, happy and safe in Minnesota.
That's what I thought on Monday morning as I drove to 63rd and Orchard avenues in Brooklyn Center, where 20-year-old Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer on Sunday. According to officials, he was stopped for expired tags. An officer who approached the car also pointed out "something" dangling from his rearview mirror before alerting the young father of an outstanding warrant, asking him to get out of his car and telling him to put his hands behind his back.
Per the bodycam video released by the city, Wright died seconds after returning to his vehicle and being shot by an officer who yelled, "Taser! Taser!" but discharged her firearm. He drove a few blocks before crashing his car.
On Monday, I felt compelled to go to the scene of another Minnesota tragedy. As I sat in my car, processing the emotions within this downpour of death against Black bodies, I noticed a resident, with his blinds open, watching coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial, near the spot where Wright lost his life.
I wondered what Wright was thinking, in that spot, on Sunday. From the video, it's clear he returned to his vehicle after an officer tried to put handcuffs on him. But the phrasing around "resisting arrest" grants officers universal autonomy and righteousness under these circumstances. The truth? A Minneapolis officer is on trial right now for killing a man in handcuffs, hands behind his back, knee on his neck. Our Blackness is too often an act of resistance to the authorities charged with policing our communities.
That's why I don't know if Wright was running from the consequences attached to a warrant or fleeing because he justifiably feared for his life, knowing other Black people in his position never saw their children again.
I also know how quickly those scenarios can escalate. When I tell my white friends about my encounters with police, they cannot relate.
The officers who trailed my father's van whenever we'd drive to our new house in the white neighborhood in the late 1980s. The dozen squad cars that surrounded my friends and me at a gas station after we were falsely accused of assault. The state trooper who, a few years ago, followed me for 12 miles after I left my driveway.
But I was triggered Sunday by talk of an air freshener possibly cited among Wright's infractions by the officers who stopped him.
I was a college student in Mankato when a police officer stopped me and told me he saw an air freshener hanging from my rearview mirror. I was confused. I'd been driving north on Hwy. 169 in the far right lane and he was positioned on southbound Hwy. 169. It was 11 p.m. and I was on my way to a friend's house.
How could he have seen it from the opposite side of the highway in the dark?
"So," he said, "where are you going?"
It was a reminder that, in this place, stops can happen for a multitude of reasons. But every Black person across this state is somehow tasked with de-escalation in those moments. That's only an exaggeration until you see another tragic video. And the next one after that.
Once I left the spot where Wright was shot and killed, I drove to the Brooklyn Center precinct and stood next to activists expressing their pain.
I did not go there as a reporter. I arrived simply as a Black man broken again by the news of the day.
A young white woman held a sign that said, "Silence is Violence." A Black woman waved a Black Lives Matter flag. A man with a megaphone shouted into the faces of the Brooklyn Center police officers and National Guard members gathered across the street. Most protesters stood quietly, describing their angst and anger to one another.
"This is some bullshit," a man in a black jacket said. I agreed.
Nearby, I'd driven by boarded-up buildings throughout Brooklyn Center.
"They smashed the window," the owner of a local gas station told me after I filled up for the day. He was putting a large piece of plywood on his front door.
This is a city that has been bracing, rebuilding and recovering for too long. While we're all wrestling with the weight of George Floyd's death and Derek Chauvin's trial, we are once again asked to tell the world how bad this feels.
I still don't know. I'm digesting this, too.
Before I left the precinct, however, I moved toward the curb in front of the building to survey the surreal scene. Officers were moving in formation just before the release of the bodycam video.
My eyes filled with the tears that seem to keep coming as I ponder the future of my family in this place. I can't seem to find much joy these days.
And I don't know if Minnesota will ever allow me to be Black, happy and safe.