On Sunday afternoon, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot dead by a police officer, just a few miles from the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who killed George Floyd. George Floyd was an unarmed Black man who was accused of passing a bad $20 bill. Daunte Wright was pulled over for expired registration and a dangling air freshener. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has noted that police often use common items like dangling air fresheners as a pretext to target Black drivers. Studies have found that Black drivers are far more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers are.
After a scuffle, Daunte was killed with a single gunshot. The officer who killed him, a 26-year veteran of the police force, claimed she thought she was reaching for her taser, which she carries on her other hip. When I heard the news of this killing, I have to confess that I struggled about whether there was any more to say. What could I possibly add to this conversation? Like many others, I am outraged. I am hurt and traumatized and I certainly don’t feel like I have any answers.
What I do know, however, is that it is important to speak up and to speak out and to continue to do what I can to advance racial justice. To my colleagues who are tirelessly doing this work, I honor you and stand with you in solidarity. I also know how important it is to make sure that we acknowledge harm whenever it occurs. We must never get used to injustice. And so we remind ourselves at times like these to put our own pain aside to say what has to be said – this must stop.
We must pay honor to Daunte Wright, who is the latest victim of a racist system. Daunte Wright deserves our attention, and so we say his name.
Today I was in a zoom meeting where the speaker was Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. During his presentation, Darren mentioned the 1936 poem “Let American Be America Again” by Langston Hughes. Having read this poem some years ago, I went back to re-read it. For me, it captures these times we’re in, both the challenges and the opportunities.
There’s one verse in which Hughes says:
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
James W. Head
President and Chief Executive Officer
East Bay Community Foundation