A demonstrator wave a flag reading "Black Lives Matter" during a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, US on Monday, April 12 2021. Picture: BLOOMBERG/CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA
A demonstrator wave a flag reading "Black Lives Matter" during a protest in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, US on Monday, April 12 2021. Picture: BLOOMBERG/CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA

Brooklyn Center — A suburban Minneapolis police officer evidently drew her gun by mistake, instead of her Taser, when she shot a young black fatally during a traffic stop, a police chief said hours before a second night of unrest sparked by the killing.

But family members of the slain motorist, Daunte Wright, 20, dispute that Sunday’s shooting in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, was a mere accident. Wright’s grieving brother says the cop was “trigger happy”.

The police officer who fired the fatal shot, identified as 26-year department veteran Kim Potter, who is white, was placed on administrative leave. Mayor Mike Elliott called for her immediate dismissal.

The shooting roiled a region already on edge, as last year’s killing of George Floyd, a black man who died with his neck pinned to the tarmac of a Minneapolis street under a white policeman’s knee, was being described in  detail in the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin, charged with his murder.

Wright was killed just 16km from where Floyd lost his life while under arrest for allegedly passing a bogus $20 bill, unleashing a months-long nationwide upheaval of protests against racial injustice in the US law enforcement system.

Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon told reporters that Wright was pulled over for an expired vehicle registration and that the shooting looked  unintentional, judging from his initial review of police video footage of the incident.

‘Accidental discharge’

“This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officers’ reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr Wright,” said Gannon.

The Hennepin County medical examiner on Monday ruled the death a homicide, confirming in an autopsy that Wright was killed by a bullet in the chest.

The shooting sparked a night of street skirmishes between police and protesters in Brooklyn Center. News media reported looting and burglaries of about 20 businesses at a nearby shopping centre.

Disturbances flared anew on Monday, as hundreds of protesters under heavy rain and defying a curfew ordered by governor Tim Walz clashed with law enforcement as darkness fell outside police headquarters.

A crowd surged against a fence put up to keep protesters at bay, some hurling bottles and other projectiles and setting off fireworks as police responded by firing volleys of teargas and what appeared to be plastic rounds.

A nearby discount store was looted and vandalised, but most of the demonstrators drifted away by 10pm. As calm was restored, police reported 40 arrests for offences including curfew violations and  rioting.

Three cops suffered minor injuries from debris thrown at them, authorities said.

Police in Minneapolis said several people were arrested in connection with five retail burglaries.

Memorial vigil

During a memorial vigil on Monday night at the spot where Wright was killed, relatives remembered him as a good-natured father who worked at many jobs to support his two-year-old son. They voiced anguish at his death at the hands of police.

“My brother lost his life because they were trigger happy,” his older half sibling, Dallas Wright, told the crowd.

“My heart is broken in a thousand pieces ... I miss him so much, and it's only been a day,” said his weeping mother, Katie Wright. “He was my life. He was my son. I can never get that back. Because of a mistake? Because of an accident?”

Wright’s father, Aubrey, told the Washington Post his son had dropped out of high school a few years earlier due to a learning disability.

Gannon told reporters that a routine traffic stop of Wright had escalated into a fatal confrontation when officers ran a check on his expired vehicle registration and found an outstanding warrant for him.

Police did not elaborate, but the New York Times cited public records showing a judge had issued a warrant for Wright’s failure to appear in court on two misdemeanour charges last year.

Police video footage presented by Gannon showed one officer trying to handcuff Wright next to the car before Wright broke free and got back in his car. At that point, a second officer yells, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” before firing a single shot from her handgun, the video shows.

“Holy shit, I just shot him,” the policewoman is heard to shout as the car rolls away with Wright still in the driver's seat. The car struck another vehicle and came to a stop moments later.

Reuters

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