We no longer believe that this could not happen here — this horror of race and death. Our hidden history of violence and despair, of power and privilege. This is here.
This is us.
The state where during the Summer of 1967, North Minneapolis erupted against police brutality. Where in 1989, two elderly black residents were killed in a fire after police threw a stun grenade into their apartment during a drug raid. Where police busted small birthday parties of black students, dangling them over the edge of the 6th-floor railing. Where in 1990, a police officer chased and shot an unarmed black teen in the back. Where in 2000, a black 11-year old was shot in the arm by the police during a drug raid. The state with the Metro Gang Strike Task force, which was surveilling, brutalizing, and stealing from people of color in Minneapolis. The state where Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and George Floyd died.
The Minnesota Timberwolves did not play a basketball game last night because another unarmed black person was killed by the police in the Twin Cities area. With the eyes of the world on Minnesota during the trial of Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, reality came to an abrupt halt again, bringing more fury, suffering, and despair. After all, what is justice for one when another is killed for the crime of hanging an air freshener in the rearview mirror.
There are no cries of “I can’t breathe,” no pleas of “don’t shoot,” — just more death. We watch the recorded video of one man dying pinned down on the ground for the umpteenth time as the lawyers determine if it truly was the knee to the neck that caused death, while another is then slain by negligence, as if guns were toys accidentally firing without human hands pulling the trigger.
Basketball and the NBA are our escape, an outlet to become engulfed in the trivialities and tribalism. A badge to wear representing our city, our place. But yet, our refuge lives amidst terror. Over the last year, we have been disabused of our notion of Minnesota as a place of equality. Of course, this idea was only codified by the privilege of living in opaque bubbles of race and class. Even after spending my career working in South Africa and Baltimore, I had naively believed my childhood existed in a Narnia-world of Minnesota Exceptionalism. The same childhood where I traveled from my lily-white suburb to play basketball in Brooklyn Park, fully cognizant of the racist jokes and comments from my peers.
But this world of ours is one where the NBA is inextricably involved in the racial discourse of the country. It does not matter if you are a player wrongfully arrested and injured in the city you play for, the most famous player in the world having your home defaced by racist graffiti, or a President of Basketball Operations celebrating a championship victory. The players have emerged as catalysts of reform, giving their power and voices to support their communities, sparking support around the world. Here in Minnesota, Josh Okogie, Karl-Anthony Towns, and the Timberwolves organization lent their voices to support protestors and Black Lives Matter.
But the protests and the policy changes brought about by the protests following George Floyd’s death did not prevent the death of Daunte Wright. The gears of policy grind slowly, as the most dramatic step, the dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department, is likely to be voted on in the Fall. In Maryland, the state senate just passed sweeping reforms after years of stagnation following the death of Freddie Gray. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passed in February, banning chokeholds, no-knock warrants, and a laundry list of other policy goals. But Daunte Wright is still dead, a name to be added to the long list of those killed by the police just in Minnesota.
The footage of Daunte Wright’s death has been released by the Brooklyn Police Department, who have stated that the officer mistakenly fired their weapon rather than using a taser. This admission, one of “accidental discharge,” was used to defend the killing of Oscar Grant in San Francisco in 2009. The officer that killed Oscar Grant was charged with second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter, only being convicted on the last charge.
The reformist attitudes towards policing feel laughable on days like today. Would the “Eight Can’t Wait” principals have helped the police officer notice they were firing a gun rather than a taser? If police officers have such a difficult time not killing unarmed black people, then perhaps there are systemic problems afoot.
However, bereft of hope, our history gives us a throughline to follow. Perhaps not an arc of justice but one of remembrance, from the question of “Am I not a man?” in the Dred Scott case to the sanitation workers striking in Memphis bearing signs of “I am a Man” to Mike Conley’s jersey in the NBA bubble.
We mourn, sharing anger and sorrow, lending support and love where we can. Daunte Wright’s name should not have been added to this continuum of death in Minnesota, but all we can do is demand that the name rings of justice.