An Avoidable Tragedy: The Accidental Shooting of Duante Wright

I have watched the body cam audio and video and it is clear to me that Minnesota police officer Kim Potter meant to use her Taser to prevent Daunte Wright from escaping arrest but accidentally drew her handgun instead and shot Wright once, killing him. Wright’s death has been ruled a homicide. Potter had been with the force for more than a quarter century. She just resigned. Predictably, Black Lives Matter took the opportunity to engage in violent action. Just as predictably, the media spun the event as another instance of racist policing.

There is no evidence at this point the police were racist or behaving in a racist manner. Officers had Wright out of the car and were attempting to handcuff him when he broke free and got back into his car to drive away. The body cam shows Potter telling Wright she would “tase” him. She is seen yelling, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” while Wright is trying to get back into his car. After discharging her weapon she says, “holy shit, I just shot him.” It is tragic that Wright lost his life. It must be devastating to a veteran police officer to accidentally shoot a man.

The Brooklyn Center police have issued a press release that reads in part: “Officers determined that the driver of the vehicle had an outstanding warrant…. At one point as officers were attempting to take the driver into custody, the driver re-entered the vehicle. One officer discharged their firearm, striking the driver. The vehicle traveled several blocks before striking another vehicle.” This is unintentional homicide. The stop was legitimate. The officers had reason to take Wright into custody.

Also tragic is that this could have ended so differently. Teach your children that police officers are human beings who come with all the frailties of all other human beings, and the best way to safely interact with law enforcement is to obey their commands. If officers are wrong in stopping, detaining, or arresting a person, then that will come out later. What is crucial in the immediate situation is to stay alive. In the moment is not the place to challenge police officers. They have guns. Officers have a difficult job. Don’t add to an already confused and heightened sensory experience. One can obey their commands at the same time assert his constitutional rights, all the while staying alive.

People love you, so stay alive. This is what we should be telling our loved ones. But there is a different message young people are hearing today. They’re being told that the police are racist (they’re not) and they have no obligation to obey the commands of racists. Worse, they are being encouraged to resist for the sake of social justice. Telling a young man of any race that police have no authority to stop, detail, and arrest him increases the likelihood that he will resist arrest in defiance of law enforcement, as an act of primitive rebellion. He will do so out of a sense of injustice, from a place of anger. Resisting detention and arrest increases the likelihood that suspects and officers will be harmed. Don’t be a martyr for a cause rooted in myth.

You may believe that the police are not justified in detaining and arresting you, but, unless you are suicidal, staying safe in a civilian-officer interaction depends on you keeping that opinion from causing you to escalate a dangerous situation. I mention suicide not as a throwaway line. There are instances of suicide-by-cop where the detainee or arrestee resists officers in a bid to initiate deadly force. Whether this was a such a case is not yet known, but a person is putting his life in jeopardy by resisting arrest, so it is at least a species of victim-precipitated homicide.

There are those who will tell you that telling young men how to stay alive when dealing with the police is “blaming the victim.” But staying alive in the situation is no different that staying alive in any number of dangerous situations, yet we don’t fail to teach our children about those dangers and how to avoid or mitigate them. I have had the talk with my children. Have you had that talk with yours?

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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