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'He Was A Prince': Grief And Anger At Daunte Wright's Funeral In Minneapolis

Updated April 22, 2021 at 2:59 PM ET

Mourners gathered Thursday in Minneapolis for the funeral of Daunte Wright, just two days after a jury there convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of the murder of George Floyd.

Wright was the 20-year-old Black man shot and killed by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minn., while resisting arrest during a traffic stop earlier this month. Officials characterized the shooting as "accidental," saying the officer, Kim Potter, meant to use her Taser on Wright but mistakenly drew her handgun instead.

Body camera footage, released by Brooklyn Center officials the day after the shooting, showed Potter shouting, "Taser, Taser, Taser!" just before she fires her handgun. She resigned from her position and has since been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Wright's death, which took place as the Chauvin trial was underway at a courthouse just 10 miles away, immediately prompted protests and outcry.

Thursday's funeral was held at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in north Minneapolis, where members of Wright's family spoke, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton and several high-ranking Minnesota Democrats.

"I never imagined I'd be standing here. The roles should be completely reversed. My son should be burying me," said Katie Wright, Daunte's mother, speaking in front of the closed white coffin piled with red roses.

The Wright family was joined in mourning by family members and loved ones of other Black people killed in high-profile encounters with police, including those of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old Black man killed on the Fruitvale BART platform in Oakland, Calif., whose case has drawn comparisons to Wright's because the officer said at his trial he mistook his handgun for his Taser.

Sharpton, who memorably eulogized Floyd last year, delivered a tribute Thursday, recalling someone remarking they'd not seen a funeral procession so large in Minneapolis since the death of Prince.

"I said, 'Well, we came to bury the prince of Brooklyn Center,' " Sharpton said. "You thought he was just some kid with an air freshener. He was a prince. And all of Minneapolis today has stopped to honor the prince of Brooklyn Center."

The reason for the traffic stop that ended in Wright's death has been disputed.

According to Wright's mother, whom Wright called for advice during the traffic stop as officers were reviewing his license and registration, her son told her they stopped him over an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, which is a minor infraction in Minnesota. Officials said they stopped Wright over expired license registration tags.

Now, air fresheners have become a symbol of Wright's death. Protesters have tied them to the fence erected outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

"We come today as the air fresheners for Minnesota. We trying to get the stench for police brutality out of the atmosphere. We trying to get the stench of racism out of the atmosphere," Sharpton said. "We can't breathe in your stinking air no more."

The Rev. Al Sharpton delivers the eulogy Thursday at Daunte Wright's funeral. "You thought he was just some kid with an air freshener. He was a prince," Sharpton said.
Stephen Maturen / Getty Images
Getty Images
The Rev. Al Sharpton delivers the eulogy Thursday at Daunte Wright's funeral. "You thought he was just some kid with an air freshener. He was a prince," Sharpton said.

Sharpton and Benjamin Crump, the prominent civil rights attorney who is representing Wright's family, called on Congress to pass the police reform bill bearing Floyd's name as a row of Minnesota politicians, all Democrats, sat behind them onstage, including Gov. Tim Walz, state Attorney General Keith Ellison, Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, whose district includes Brooklyn Center.

"We have to fight for our children until hell freezes, then we have to be prepared to fight on the ice," Crump said. "They too have a right to life and liberty and the American dream."

Klobuchar said, "We have to change the status quo so that driving while Black doesn't result in getting shot. This is the urgent task before us."

Because Wright's death occurred during Chauvin's trial, family and activists worried aloud that it meant little had changed since the nationwide wave of protests over Floyd's death.

Sharpton praised the Chauvin guilty verdict and the work of Ellison, whose office handled the prosecution.

"God has turned the page in the state of Minnesota, and we're never going back no more," Sharpton said to applause.

As mourners headed toward the church before the funeral began, a handful of demonstrators gathered on nearby streets, with one woman waving a Black Lives Matter flag and an artist starting a mural across the street.

"I gotta tell you, I'm just in shock right now. The world shouldn't be like this. We shouldn't be losing friends like this," said Malik Taylor, 24, a childhood friend of Wright's who attended the funeral with another friend, John Mayer Jones, 19, both of Minneapolis.

"I know he wouldn't want me to be sad, but I'm a little sad, a little mad, by the way he died," Jones said. "Nobody expected him to [die] — especially not by the police."

NPR's Liz Baker and David Schaper contributed to this report.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.