Families who lost loved ones demand feds investigate Minnesota law enforcement

A woman speaks at a podium
Katie Wright, the mother of Daunte Wright, who was killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer on April 11, 2021, speaks at a press conference. Valerie Castile, left, the mother of Philando Castile, killed by a police officer in 2016, holds her arm.
Peter Cox

The family of Daunte Wright joined a group of other families whose loved ones have been killed by police. They demanded Friday the federal government investigate Minnesota’s policing.

Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends held up the photos of their loved ones who have been killed by police after traffic stops, during mental health calls, and while in custody.

The families said they wanted changes in the way police shootings are investigated. Several groups working with them signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for a patterns and practice investigation of police misconduct in Minnesota.

They held Katie Wright’s hand and put their hands on her shoulder as she spoke. Wright’s 20 year-old son was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center police officer Sunday.

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”Justice would be bringing my son home to me justice would have been my son driving to the carwash and coming home after that. I'm not going to get that,” Wright said.

Wright said she’s unhappy that the officer is being charged with second degree manslaughter and not with murder. Prosecutors say Kimberly Potter drew her handgun and yelled “Taser,” several times before firing one shot into the Black man.

“I don't want to feel helpless. I need my son to have justice along with everybody else's son, daughters, people who are murdered by the police,” Katie Wright said.

Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile who was shot and killed during a traffic stop for a broken tail light in 2016, says Wright’s death was a painful reliving of her own son’s fatal shooting by a police officer.

“How do you keep having murder after murder? We don't have time to recover. I’m mad as hell again. And again and again and again. This is ridiculous,” Castile said.

Toshira Garraway, who runs Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, said the group has not had enough time to mourn. Garraway’s fiancé, Justin Teigen, the father of her son, died after being stopped by St. Paul police more than a decade ago.

“It hurts me that I have to tap these mothers because they want to mourn and they want to tell their stories.”

Garraway said the Minnesota Legislature failed the state when it failed to pass meaningful reform soon after George Floyd was killed last May.

“If the laws were changed during the special session, this may not have happened,” Garraway said, adding that “the watered down bills that you gave us just to say that you did something, did nothing because people are still ending up dead in the streets.”

In an interview on MPR News Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said if Democrats hold up budget negotiations as they are threatening, the stage could be set for another government shutdown.  Gazelka also said nothing being proposed would have prevented last Sunday's fatal police shooting in Brooklyn Center.

"Daunte Wright as far as what happened there, there's no good way to look at it except the process is working. The police officer has been arrested,” the Republican leader said. “There's going to be a trial or a jury that will decide what the outcome is, so it is working."

Several of the speakers strongly criticized Gazelka’s response, and said he’s stood in the way of many meaningful reforms.

Johnathon McClellan, the president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, said there are several steps the legislature could take.

“We want a level playing field, not a hill we have to climb and fight with one hand tied behind our back and a knee on our neck, a gun to our head or a gun to the head of our children,” McClellan said.

His group wants the state Legislature to act on a number of proposals, including an end to qualified immunity, a requirement that law enforcement release body camera footage within 48 hours of any critical police incident and a scrapping of the statute of limitations on wrongful death.