On Sunday afternoon, police in Brooklyn Center—a suburb 15 minutes north of downtown Minneapolis—killed a 20-year-old Black man named Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Protesters initially gathered in the neighborhood where he was killed before blocking off the intersection outside the Brooklyn Center police station two miles away.
As the smoke fades, the line of riot cops becomes visible again. With each round of “less-than-lethal” weapons, they push protesters back a bit. The officers stand stoically, evenly spaced between the outlines of bare trees. The road in front of the police station is blocked by cars and green waste management bins. Yellow caution tape is strewn about.
During a lull in chants, a protester sets off fireworks. Red and blue lights up the hazy night sky. The crowd cheers. Above, a helicopter continues to circle.
During the second week of the Derek Chauvin murder trial, Minneapolis was peppered with storms. The threat of rain loomed over the skyline; rolling thunder occasionally interrupted its sleep. Not long after the close of court Friday, lightning appeared.
Around 9 pm on Friday, protesters gathered outside the fortified courthouse downtown. With the wind chill, it was near freezing. The gray concrete facade of the Hennepin County Government Center faded into the slate-colored sky.
A small mass of protesters stood behind a white sound truck, motorcycles and medics protecting their space. The wind wove its way through portraits of George Floyd and Philando Castile. A Black Lives Matter flag waved. Some people sported gas masks, some headlamps. A man in a camo jacket cradled a small white dog.
Industrial smoke and a haze of clouds floated above. As the crowd prepared to march, five cops drove by in procession. Their red and blue lights were dancing, sirens silent.
When officers first form a line in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department on Sunday evening, many protesters stand eye-to-eye with police. A Black girl wrapped in a blanket positions herself calmly in front of one. She is wearing yellow Crocs over patterned socks, has tied her braids up with a pink scrunchie. The state agents across from her don black armor. Zip-tie handcuffs hang from their belts. They stand with their feet shoulder-width apart, their faces devoid of expression.
Wright called his mother, Katie, when he got pulled over. She identified her son’s body at the scene, according to The New York Times. “He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror,” she said on Facebook Live.
When Aubrey Wright arrived at the scene, he saw the car he’d recently bought his son and his son’s body on the sidewalk. According to his parents, Daunte was on his way to the car wash. He had a one-and-a-half-year-old son. His girlfriend was with him in the car when he was shot.
Independent journalists livestream the protests in Brooklyn Center; thousands tune in. As the crowd grows outside the police station, people write messages in chalk on the ground:
no justice, no street
he was only 20
A protester stands atop the department’s monument sign. Another wears a shirt for Kobe Heisler, a 21-year-old who was killed by Brooklyn Center police in 2019. Officers shoot rubber bullets in the direction of the crowd and a low-rise apartment complex, where families—some with children—watch from the balcony. Tear gas fills the air.
On Friday night, DJ Hooker held the microphone in his right hand and the cord in his left. Hooker, a local organizer with Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, was dressed in a baby blue tie-dyed sweatshirt—the same one he’d wear to Brooklyn Center on Sunday night. As he addressed the crowd, a blue surgical mask looped around his ears. “Go DJ!” someone shouted.
“The first thing I want to talk about is this military occupation, OK?” he said.
Throughout the trial, soldiers with guns have guarded the courthouse as part of Operation Safety Net. During recent business days, Floyd’s death has been dissected inside. An exhibit for the prosecution showed close-up photos of Floyd’s face pressed into the pavement. He died from a lack of oxygen, pulmonologist Martin Tobin testified on Thursday.
“What does it mean to actually be free?” Hooker asked the crowd Friday night. “’Cause let me tell you: I don’t feel free.”
“They keep talking about what was in his system,” Hooker added, referring to Chauvin’s defense. “It’s not about what was in his system. It’s about the corrupt system that he’s in right now.”
On Sunday evening, many protesters make their way to Brooklyn Center from a rally in St. Paul. This week, Justin Teigen would have turned 36. He was killed by St. Paul police when he was 24. His fiancé, Toshira Garraway, founded an organization called Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence.
At Friday night’s protest, Garraway wore a purple sweatshirt with her organization’s logo on it. “For 11 years now, it’s been hard for me to sleep,” she said to the crowd. “I sleep with my light on every night since my son’s father was murdered.”
After a march around the barricades, past armed soldiers, protesters gathered around Garraway and lawyer Nekima Levy Armstrong. Each woman held a bundle of white balloons. Those in attendance lit the sky with their cell phones. As the balloons were released, they shouted the names of stolen lives. “Glory” played.
The balloons drifted higher, away from Foshay Tower, once the tallest building in Minneapolis. The protest ended as many do. Levy Armstrong led the famous Assata Shakur chant. “We have a duty to fight for our freedom!” she said, fist up. “We have a duty to win!”
In Brooklyn Center on Sunday, Garraway is wearing a black T-shirt with Teigen’s photo on it. Surrounded by protesters, she bows her head. Together, she and Wright’s mother pray.
At around 1 am on Monday, law enforcement leaders call a press conference. John Harrington, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, stands behind a podium with the Operation Safety Net emblem on its front. Harrington, a Black man with a gray beard, has an American flag and police officers at his side.
“About 2 o’clock this afternoon, we were notified of an officer-involved shooting on the 6300 block of Orchard,” he tells the cameras. “Medical resources were then deployed to the scene. The driver of the vehicle was deceased and the BCA [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] was then called in as a standard procedure to do the officer-involved shooting investigation.”
“Minneapolis has mobilized strike teams,” he adds in response to press questioning. “There are more National Guard already moving into the city.”
Outside the Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, a Court TV van is parked next to a military vehicle. A curfew is in place in Brooklyn Center until 6 am. Not long after it’s lifted, court is again in session.
On the ground at George Floyd Square, a message has been painted in red:
justice for daunte wright