The next George Floyd? Riot, looting in Twin Cities after new police shooting

Here we go again. As tensions run high in the Twin Cities during the Derek Chauvin trial over George Floyd’s death, a new police shooting in the suburbs threatens to start a new sequence of violent protest. After police shot a young black man during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, hundreds gathered to protest — a protest which turned into a riot, looting, and destruction:

A Brooklyn Center police officer fatally shot a man during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon, inflaming already raw tensions between police and community members in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial.

Relatives of Daunte Wright, 20, who is Black, told a tense crowd gathered at the scene in the northern Minneapolis suburb Sunday afternoon that Wright drove for a short distance after he was shot, crashed his car, and died at the scene.

Protesters later walked to the Brooklyn Center police headquarters near N. 67th Avenue and N. Humboldt Avenue and were locked in a standoff with police in riot gear late Sunday night. Officers repeatedly ordered the crowd of about 500 to disperse as protesters chanted Wright’s name and climbed atop the police headquarters sign, by then covered in graffiti. Police used tear gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets on the crowd.

For those unfamiliar with the Twin Cities area, Brooklyn Center is north of Minneapolis, one of the first-ring suburbs. The previous riots never came close to Brooklyn Center, although all of the area was impacted by them at least indirectly.

The state rolled out the National Guard more quickly this time, but still too late to save several businesses. The violence extended into Minneapolis, including some of the neighborhoods hit by riots last year:

National Guard troops arrived just before midnight as looters targeted the Brooklyn Center Walmart and nearby shopping mall. Several businesses around the Walmart were completely destroyed, including Foot Locker, T Mobile, and a New York men’s clothing store.

Looting was widespread late Sunday into early Monday, spilling into north and south Minneapolis. Reports said that stores in Uptown and along Lake Street were also being looted.

So what happened? According to police, Wright attempted to flee when police discovered he had an outstanding warrant. What isn’t clear is why the officer fired into the vehicle, especially with a passenger in it:

Demonstrators gathered shortly after the shooting and crash, with some jumping on top of police cars and confronting officers. Marchers also descended upon the Brooklyn Center police department building, where rocks and other objects were thrown at officers, Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner John Harrington said at a news conference. The protesters had largely dispersed by 1:15 a.m. Monday, he said.

Harrington added that about 20 businesses had been broken into at the city’s Shingle Creek shopping center. He said law enforcement agencies were coordinating to tame the unrest, and the National Guard was activated.

Brooklyn Center police said in a statement that officers had stopped a motorist shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday. After determining the driver had an outstanding warrant, police tried to arrest the driver. The driver reentered the vehicle and an officer fired at the vehicle, striking the driver, police said. The vehicle traveled several blocks before striking another vehicle.

That explanation is at best incomplete. Wright shouldn’t have attempted to flee, but that alone doesn’t justify the use of lethal force. The body-cam footage will likely provide answers shortly. Did Wright aim a firearm at the officer, or attempt to hit him with the vehicle? Both of those would justify lethal force in response. For now, though, the brief description of the incident leaves lots of questions for police about this shooting.

And it couldn’t come at a worse time in the Twin Cities. Chauvin’s trial will wrap up in the next couple of weeks, and people here are resigned to violence no matter which way the jury goes. The Wright shooting will only stoke those flames, and one has to wonder just how much it might end up impacting Chauvin’s jury. Judge Peter Cahill denied a request to sequester the jury during the trial, opting instead for sequestration only during deliberations. Cahill admonished them not to consume media reports about the Chauvin-Floyd case, but it’s a good bet some of them heard about this new shooting. The odds are low of a mistrial on that basis, but they’re not zero, either.