‘It’s always like this’: Brooklyn Center residents describe history of racial targeting

Outraged and spiritually exhausted residents of Brooklyn Center on the outskirts of Minneapolis have condemned what they described as a long track record of racial targeting by police in the small city.

Two days after a white officer shot dead Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop on Sunday, protests continued and people left flowers at the side of the road, in a growing makeshift memorial where he was killed.

People sobbed in the cold gusts and snow flurries, struggling to light candles that now spell out “RIP D”.

“This is nothing new. It’s been ongoing. It’s always like this,” Stacy Osagiede, 24, said when asked if she thought Wright had been profiled by race when pulled over.

Brooklyn Center is less than 15 miles from the spot where George Floyd was killed last May in south Minneapolis.

Many across the region were already tense as the ex-police officer who pinned Floyd down by kneeling on his neck, Derek Chauvin, is currently on trial for murder in a case watched throughout the world.

“I’ve been pulled over multiple times in this area,” Osagiede, who has lived in Brooklyn Center for most of her life, told the Guardian on Tuesday about driving around in her mother’s Mercedes, as she looked at the tributes left for Wright.

Osagiede explained there was underlying tension within the city with police officers before Wright was killed, but that his death represented “a big wound in this community”, which was normally a nice family suburb, she said.

“I came out here to pay my respects. This could have been my brother, this could have been anybody,” she said.

Mike Elliott, who in 2019 became the first Black mayor of Brooklyn Center, announced on Tuesday that the police chief, Tim Gannon, and the officer who shot Wright, Kim Potter, had both resigned.

“We cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people. We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that justice is done and our communities are made whole,” he said.

In a tumultuous 48 hours, Elliott’s office also took over authority of the police department, after the city manager was fired, and the mayor said that he thought there were 49 sworn officers serving in Brooklyn Center but that as far as he knew, none of the serving officers actually lived there.

“There is a huge importance to having a significant number of our officers living in the community where they serve. It helps inform the culture of the department … and can only enhance the work of the officers,” he said.

As Elliott was discussing such issues at a press conference, activists called out asking what the city was going to do about the “long history of racial profiling” by police.

Of the almost 40,000 residents in Brooklyn Center, about 45% of the population is white, 27% are Black and about 18% are Asian.

“They didn’t have to treat him [Wright] the way they treated him,” said Selena Cowser, 21, who lives a mile away from where Wright was killed, her voice wavering as she added that she was fearful.

“I don’t want to go outside any more. I just want to stay put in my house … if this is going to keep happening,” she said.

Wright spoke to his mother on the phone about possibly having been pulled over for illegally hanging air fresheners from the rearview mirror, then he mentioned the vehicle’s insurance. After he was killed, the police said the vehicles registration had expired. Protesters were met by police in military garb.

“They could have given him a ticket or something. They didn’t have to do this … They all need to be held accountable,” Cowser said, adding that even though she didn’t know Wright, “this is impacting me a lot”.

Keith Ellison, the former congressman representing the area and currently Minnesota attorney general, who is leading the prosecution of Chauvin, showed up in Brooklyn Center alongside the mayor on Monday night.

“This thing will not be swept under the rug,” he pledged. The families of Floyd and Wright spoke out on Tuesday.

Where Wright died, the memorial is centered around the Black power fist wooden sculpture that originally graced the intersection now known as George Floyd Square, where Floyd died.

It has been replaced there by a metal version of the art. The message “Justice for Daunte Wright” had been painted in large letters in George Floyd Square, while community activists who look after that space brought the wooden sculpture to Brooklyn Center.

Jordan Powell Karis, the sculptures’ creator, told the Guardian they were vital symbols “because these killings are directly related to the value we place on a Black body”.

He added: “George and Daunte are dead from the same broken system.”

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