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As the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin went into a third week of testimony Monday, a police killing of a motorist in a neighboring community has once again left the region reeling. Amna Nawaz speaks with Lisa Clemons of A Mother's Love Initiative and Campaign Zero's Sam Sinyangwe about the community's reaction.
As the trial of Derek Chauvin went into a third week of testimony in Minneapolis today, a police killing of a Black man in a neighboring community has once again left the region reeling.
Amna Nawaz has the story.
And a warning:
Viewers may find some of the images disturbing.
In a community already on edge, police today released body camera footage of yesterday's fatal police shooting.
What began as a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis…
Taser! Taser! Taser!
Oh, I (EXPLETIVE DELETED). I just shot him.
… ended with the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright.
Police Chief Tim Gannon said today he believes the officer accidentally drew her handgun, instead of her Taser.
Police Chief Tim Gannon:
As I watch the video and listen to the officer's commands, it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet.
Police had previously said Wright was being arrested on an outstanding warrant.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the incident. The unnamed officer, described only as a senior officer, is currently on administrative leave.
Mayor Mike Elliott called for more action.
Mayor Mike Elliott:
We cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people in our profession. And so I do fully support releasing the officer of her duties.
Even before the video was released, protesters had already gathered at the scene on Sunday afternoon, confronting officers and jumping on a police car.
At the Brooklyn Center Police Department, demonstrators were met by rubber bullets and tear gas, as authorities tried to disperse the crowd. Reports followed of looting in other parts of Brooklyn Center.
Wright's mother pleaded for calm.
Don't want all of this. I just want my baby home. That's all I want. Just I want him to be home. I don't want everybody out here chanting and screaming and yelling. I just want him home. That's it.
The Minnesota National Guard activated on Sunday night. They were already on alert for potential unrest around the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the May 2020 killing of George Floyd, 10 miles away in Minneapolis.
Officials said Guard presence will increase today, with more protests planned. The Twin Cities area was placed under a state of emergency this afternoon, and a curfew was called for tonight.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz:
Rep. Tim Walz:
We have the ability to hold two things at the same time, the ability to create a space for peaceful protest and no tolerance for those who wish to do harm or do destruction. Those things can happen together.
And President Biden addressed the shooting at a White House event this afternoon.
Pres. Joe Biden:
Our prayers are with the family. It's a really tragic thing that happened.
The question is, was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation. But, in the meantime, I want to make it clear again there is absolutely no justification, none, for looting, no justification for violence. Peaceful protest, understandable.
Meanwhile over the weekend, another video showing police use of force caught the country's attention over 1,600 miles away.
Open the door slowly! Step out!
Video released from a December traffic stop in Windsor, Virginia, showed two police officers drawing their weapons on a driver in military uniform after pulling him over.
They claim he was eluding police, but Army 2nd Lieutenant Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, says he waited to pull over until he'd reached a gas station because it was well-lit.
2nd Lt. Caron Nazario: What's going on?
What is going on is, you're fixing to ride the lightning, son.
One of the officers threatens Nazario.
I'm honestly afraid to get out. I ask you, what's going to…
Yes, you should be. Get out.
Then uses pepper spray in Nazario's face.
Hold on. I just…
That officer was later fired, after an investigation found department policy was not followed. This video was made public after Nazario filed a lawsuit earlier this month, alleging the officers violated his constitutional rights.
For more on the impact of this latest police killing and why they continue to happen, we're joined by two guests closely following it all.
Lisa Clemons is a former police officer. She is also the founder and director of A Mother's Love Initiative, a community support organization based in Minneapolis. And Sam Sinyangwe is an activist, data scientist and co-founder of the groups Campaign Zero and Mapping Police Violence.
Welcome to you both. And thank you for being here.
Lisa, I want to start with you and the news we heard today, the release of this video from the police department there, and also the police chief's belief that this was accidental.
What was your reaction to that? And what has been the reaction you are seeing and hearing on the ground?
I would say from both sides once I heard that it was an accidental shooting.
But I knew that out at the scene last night. My focus when I'm at the scene is on the grief and the trauma, the historical trauma that my people are experiencing, continuing to experience with the police.
So, my focus was on the family and not on the police or the video. But I had that information last night while I was at the scene.
Lisa, this news that it was accidental, how do you think that will go down with people who were clearly very upset about the police shooting over the weekend and last night?
We have a great divide in our community. So, I think those who the police are wrong no matter what, that that side will work their agenda. And I won't blame them for that.
But then there is the other side that will say she didn't mean to do it.
But then there is the Lisa Clemons that says, whether she meant to do it or not, a life was lost. And we have to address that.
Sam, you track police violence. You map all of this nationwide.
I think a lot of people are wondering, how did this incident that began as a traffic stop end up with a man dead? What would you say to that?
I would say that, sadly, this is all too common in this country.
Last year, we did an analysis where we found 1,127 cases where police killed people last year, in 2020. Of that, 121 people were killed by police after being stopped for a traffic violation, 121 people over the course of a year. So, this isn't rare. This isn't an isolated incident. And this isn't something that is uncommon.
This is the rule, and not the exception. Indeed, when you look at police violence overall, the majority of cases in this country, whether police end up killing people, those cases began as either a traffic stop, a mental health crisis, a domestic disturbance, or a low-level — another low-level nonviolent offense.
So these sort of low-level issues, traffic violations, low-level offenses, actually result in hundreds and hundreds of people being killed by the police each year. And we have to think about this systemically. This isn't just an accident on the part of one officer.
This is a system that should not have had an armed police officer on the scene to stop somebody for a traffic violation in the first place. And so, again, we have to zoom out, because we have seen case after case, video after video, example after example that this is systemic, that this is a crisis across the country, that this is something that is going to require a lot more than just simply addressing this — the individual officer in this case.
This is about the system as a whole continuing to kill people for the smallest of things and, in many cases, for nothing at all.
And, Lisa, in this particular case, as you mentioned, you are a former police officer as well.
Sam mentioned this is an officer who was armed with both a gun and a Taser. As this police chief explains, she believed she drew her Taser — or, rather, meant to do — draw her Taser, and accidentally drew her gun.
How is easy is it for something like that to happen? And does that raise concerns about training and experience?
I think training and experience is key. It does happen, but it is still inexcusable. For me, it is still inexcusable.
I — police officers are going to make traffic stops and they will continue to make traffic stops. But I think a bigger part of this is fear factors on both sides. And I don't think anything will change until we start talking about that fear and being realistic about that fear on both sides.
That young man shouldn't have been that afraid to be arrested, regardless of whatever the charge was against him. And I say that about George Floyd as well. He should not have been that afraid to be arrested. So, there are some things that need to change, some big things, but on both sides.
So, Lisa, specific to your community, what are some of those things that need you change? As you mentioned, you are just miles from where George Floyd was killed last year.
Some of it for us in the Black community is this unchecked trauma or this historical trauma that continues to retraumatize us.
We haven't been able to unpack one event before there is another event behind it, not just in our state, but in other states. But the biggest problem is that trust factor that is not there on either side.
Sam, you mentioned the need for systemic overhaul. Be specific for me, if you can.
What needs to happen, not just in Minnesota, but around the country? If you look at a state like Maryland, for example, that just passed a police overhaul, is it something like that that needs to change?
So, obviously, this is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted solution. There is not sort of one magical answer to all of this.
But we do know the broad outlays of the type of solutions that need to be implemented all across the country. First of all, we know that we need to dramatically restrict the overall scope and role of police in society.
And so that means that we are not thinking about police be an armed agent of the state as the de facto response to issues of homelessness or substance abuse or mental health or somebody who is driving five miles over the speed limit.
There are other responses. And ,in fact, now, over the past year, since the police killed George Floyd, a number of cities, in part based on pressure from local organizing groups, have begun to pilot some of those alternative models.
A lot of people paying a lot of attention to all these issues and, of course, to Minnesota tonight.
Sam Sinyangwe and Lisa Clemons, thank you very much to both of you for join us tonight.
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Amna Nawaz joined PBS NewsHour in April 2018 and serves as the program's chief correspondent and primary substitute anchor.
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