For many of those still stuck at home due to public health restrictions, the Derek Chauvin trial taking place at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis has been in the background as we go about our daily lives. Beyond reliving the trauma inducing video of George Floyd crying out for his mother as a knee restricted his ability to breathe, we have listened to the damning testimony of many of those on the scene on May 25th of last year, including minors, who watched in horror as the 46 year old Floyd, a father of five, lost his life.
One of these witnesses, Darnela Frazier, who was 17 when she filmed the incident on her phone and helped propel news of the preventable tragedy around the world, cried on the stand as she recounted what she witnessed. During her testimony, she revealed that she felt that pleading from bystanders seemed to cause Chauvin to become even more aggressive, “If anything he was kneeling harder, like he was shoving his knee into his neck,” she told the court.
Floyd’s life is again being put under the microscope during the trial, with previous run ins with the law during the late 1990s and early 2000s and a substance abuse problem, being used by many commentators to excuse Chauvin’ s actions after police were called to investigate a complaint that he’d tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a local business. Besides the likelihood that these same issues might have been used by the press to create sympathy for another victim under different circumstances or from a different background, we should also wonder how compassionate authorities might have seen the alleged crime as an act of desperation rather than a sign they were dealing with an arch criminal.
How many months had Floyd, who worked as security at long shuttered nightclubs, been without a paycheck? It’s a question that few in the media have bothered to ask. Newsreader and entitled heir to a frozen food fortune, Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson, went so far as to question the trial itself, claiming that Officer Chauvin would probably wind up being the victim of “mob justice”.
Following what were said to be the largest protests for racial justice in American history, which continued throughout the summer as more African Americans were killed in interactions with authorities, one would think that police in Minneapolis would be trying to do their jobs very carefully.
It certainly didn’t seem possible until last Sunday, April 11th, that an officer dealing with another perceived minor vehicle violation, in this case, either air fresheners on the rearview mirror as initially reported or this combined with expired plates as later claimed, would mistake her gun for her taser and shoot another African American man dead just 10 miles outside Minneapolis in the suburb of Brooklyn Center.
Daunte Wright, whose mother said his lifeless body had been left on the ground for some time that afternoon, is the father of a 1 and half year old son. An unnamed female passenger in the car believed to be his girlfriend was also injured as the 20 year old attempted to get back into his vehicle as police tried to detain him shortly before 2 PM that day. The wounded man must have pressed on the gas pedal and the car lurched forward, crashing into another vehicle before being brought to a stop by a concrete barrier.
Just as happened in the wake of Floyd’s death at the hands of police, the character assassination of Daunte Wright has already begun, with many outlets, especially the usual suspects on the right, quickly beginning to pore over his criminal history. The officers who stopped him would have been aware after checking his ID that Wright had an outstanding warrant for missing a court date related to an accusation that he’d been in possession of an unlicensed handgun and had fled from a police officer in 2020.
The twenty year old had other issues in his past and an upcoming court date in August related to a much more serious crime, aggravated robbery, but it has been reported that police at the scene would have been unaware of this as he had not been convicted of either crime. The investigative website The Insider published the warrant for the April 2nd arrest and other documents obtained from the website for the Minnesota Court System on Wednesday.
Public defender Arthur Martinez, who was representing Wright, told the Daily Beast that he hadn’t received notice of and was unaware that he’d missed his date in court, “He obviously didn’t get it, and no one notified me, and a date came up for April 2nd for 2:30 in the afternoon, and him not knowing about it, didn’t show up, and there was a warrant issued for his arrest.”
The Brooklyn Center officer, Kim Scott, who does appear from bodycam footage to have thought she was drawing her taser (despite it being holstered on the opposite side of her body from her gun), had been on the force for 26 years and was tasked with training another officer that day. She resigned on Monday and was arrested for manslaughter two days later.
With tensions high due to the ongoing Chauvin trial, it came as no surprise that protesters took to the streets to demand justice for Daunte Wright and his family. Hundreds of people converged on the suburb’s police headquarters in the hours after the incident. An initially peaceful demonstration took a bad turn when authorities tried to disperse the crowd using tear gas and stun grenades.
In response, fireworks hurled by some in the crowd lit up the sky, fires were set, a nearby shopping center was broken into, and some in places far from the protest, some appeared to take advantage of the ensuing chaos to break into and loot an unreported number of businesses. Despite the imposition of a 7 PM curfew, rolled back to 10 PM on Wednesday, and the deployment of National Guard troops, Brooklyn Center has been the site of protests every night since.
A few days before Wright’s death, on April 8th, a suit was filed in Windsor, Virginia, related to an incident that took place on the 1st of the month involving an assault by two police officers on another African American man, Caron Nazario, 42, during what should have been another routine traffic stop. Thankfully, the man, a still serving officer in the U.S. military, survived the run in with officers, one of whom replied, “Yeah, you should be!” when Nazario told him he was afraid to exit his vehicle. The officers were also accused of choking his dog, who was in a cage in the back seat of his car.
As lawyers for the service member explained in the complaint, filed in the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, “Lt. Nazario, choking, and intermittently expressing worry not about himself, but about his dog who was caged and in the back of the vehicle, allowed Gutierrez to remove him from the vehicle, keeping his hands in the air at all times… Lt. Nazario, demonstrating compliance, again asked for a supervisor and asked the Defendants to explain to him what was going on. Gutierrez responded with knee-strikes to Lt. Nazario’s legs to force an already compliant and blinded Lt. Nazario down on his face ostensibly so they could handcuff him… Gutierrez and Crocker continued to strike Lt. Nazario.”
It shouldn’t be the victims of violence on the part of authorities who are put on trial in the media and by prosecutors beholden to the police, it should be those responsible. Nazario, who is a person trained to follow orders and respect authority, was wearing a uniform that those who call themselves ‘patriots’ say they revere, but this didn’t protect him from a violent assault. After realizing their mistake, the officers involved were said to have tried to bribe him by saying they wouldn’t press charges against him if he forgot about the assault.
Although we don’t yet know in the cases of Daunte Wright and George Floyd, for Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and so many others, rather than compensation and apologies from the individuals and institutions that snatched these individuals from their families and communities, African American victims of police violence have been smeared over and over again in death. Mob justice, indeed.