When police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center pulled over Daunte Wright on 11 April, he told his mother on the phone he thought it was because he had an air freshener blocking his rearview mirror. Moments later, officer Kimberly Potter fatally shot Mr Wright, an unarmed 20-year-old Black man, mistaking her gun for her Taser.
During his eulogy for Mr Wright on Thursday in Minneapolis, civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton took this as a metaphor.
“We come today as the air fresheners for Minnesota. We’re trying to get the stench of police brutality out of the atmosphere. We’re trying to get the stench of racism out of the atmosphere. We’re trying to get the stench of racial profiling out of the atmosphere,” he said. “Your air is too odorous for us to breathe. We can’t breathe in your stinking air no more.”
“I can’t breathe” became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement after multiple Black people being killed by police said those words just before their deaths, including George Floyd, who told police he couldn’t breathe 27 times.
The memorial service on Thursday, in Minneapolis’s Shiloh Temple, was a mix of the personal and the political.
Mr Wright’s parents Katie and Aubrey remembered their son as a lovable, joyous young man, who was excited to be a father to his young son, Daunte Jr, who was born in 2019.
“My son had a smile that was worth a million dollars,” Katie Wright said, adding, “The joy that Junior brought to Daunte’s life was truly amazing. He was so happy and so proud, and he always said he couldn’t wait to make his son proud.”
But the event was more than just a funeral service. Civil rights advocates including Rev Sharpton, attorney Ben Crump, and others like US representative Ilhan Omar and Amy Klobuchar were in attendance, and many of them called on Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a package of federal reforms that’s already cleared the House.
Mr Wright was killed by police towards the end of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, during an arrest last May.
“We struggled through all of that. Now in his name, in the name of Daunte, we’re going to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act as federal law,” Mr Sharpton said during his remarks. “We are going to make it against the law all over this country to keep bringing us to funerals.”
Other leaders spoke as well. Minnesota governor Tim Walz, who called for a statewide moment of silence in honour of Mr Wright, said: “We know that this tragedy is connected to the deep and systematic racism in our society that Black people in Minnesota and across this country face every day.”
Mr Walz has thrown his support behind a number of police reforms at the state level, though many in the community feel he hasn’t gone far enough and used heavy-handed riot police deployments on protesters in the days following Mr Wright’s death.
The service concluded with a speech from US senator for Minnesota Amy Klobuchar, who has also been criticized for going soft on police brutality cases when she was a local prosecutor.
“We cannot confuse accountability for justice,” she said. “True justice is not done as long as having expired tags means losing your life during a traffic stop.”
Kim Potter, the officer who shot Mr Wright, resigned following the death and was charged with manslaughter. The Wright family has called on local authorities to upgrade the charges to murder.
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