MINNEAPOLIS — While most funerals look to the past to remember the life of the deceased, the funeral for Daunte Wright pointed toward the future.
The rousing and at times raw funeral held Thursday was aimed at defining the legacy of the 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer during an April 11 traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis. It was also to reassure Wright’s family and the broader Minneapolis community that his death would not be forgotten.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who gave Wright’s eulogy, told mourners that the notion behind the popular cry of “no justice, no peace” started in the Bible. He added that the call of no peace without justice does not mean violence.
“There’s a confusion in this country about peace versus quiet,” Sharpton said. “Peace is the presence of justice. You can’t tell us to shut up and suffer. We must speak up when there is an injustice.”
Several lawmakers who attended, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said they were using their voices to call for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. The bill, which has already passed the House, seeks to overhaul policing and institute a federal ban on chokeholds and qualified immunity for law enforcement.
The more than two-hour-long service at times had the mood of a civil rights rally, with impassioned calls for justice, a gospel choir and the hands of attendees raised in praise.
Mourners stood throughout the service to applaud and cheer a speech or greet the lengthy lists of special guests that included the family of George Floyd, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, a Democrat, and Grammy-award winning jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, who performed renditions of “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Overcome” while an artist painted a smiling portrait of Wright in the background.
Many of those seated inside Shiloh Temple International Ministries were not relatives of Wright’s, but were part of what the family’s attorney, Ben Crump, called a fraternity none would have chosen. They included Kenneth Walker, the boyfriend of Breonna Taylor, the Louisville woman who was killed by police during a botched drug raid last year; Valerie Castile, whose son Philando was fatally shot by suburban Minneapolis police in 2016; the family of Oscar Grant, who was killed in 2009 when a Bay Area Transit officer said he fired a gun instead of a Taser; and relatives of Emmett Till.
The circumstances of Wright’s death have echoes of other cases of police killings, which Crump argued would not happen if white police officers saw their own family in the individuals they arrest.
“How did officer Potter see Daunte Wright?” Crump said, referring to Kim Potter, the 48-year-old former Brooklyn Center, Minn., officer who shot Wright. “More importantly, how does America see our children? Because if she saw Katie’s child like she saw her own, I don’t think she’d even reach for her Taser, let alone a gun.”
“When they see their children, they see their future,” Crump said. “They see their best and brightest they have to give the world. I submit to you America, so do we, when we see our children.”
The galvanizing speeches were at times overshadowed by the grief in the voices of the Wright family. Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother, told mourners she had been up since 3:30 a.m. worrying about what she would say.
“The roles should be completely reversed. My son should be burying me,” she said, trembling. She said her son’s smile was worth a million dollars and lamented that Wright’s son, 2-year-old Daunte Wright Jr., would grow up without his father.
“He’s going to be so missed,” she said.
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, could only manage a few words before he was overcome. He said he couldn’t describe his feelings, starting with, “He was my son–” before faltering and turning away from the microphone.
Wright’s siblings spoke of a joking brother who loved basketball, his son and bringing life to any room. They also spoke of sadness about the missed birthdays to come, holidays forever altered by his absence and the pain of never hearing his laugh again.
Wright’s death came as anxieties in the Minneapolis area were already high with the trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis police officer who on Tuesday was convicted of murdering George Floyd in 2020.
Wright’s death sparked days of protests that were met by a heavy police response. But Chauvin’s guilty verdict on Tuesday offered a brief reprieve from the tension as the city remained peaceful and largely celebratory following news of his conviction.
Advocates for Wright’s family have cautioned that while they may be buoyed by the Chauvin verdict, little has changed with policing around Minneapolis since Floyd’s death and that there is a long fight ahead.
Klobuchar, Omar, Crump and others repeatedly called for support of the expansive police reform bill named for Floyd that passed the House in March.
Omar, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, presented Wright’s parents with a flag that she said had flown over the U.S. Capitol in their son’s honor and read aloud from a resolution by the caucus with its condolences for Wright. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, presented the family with a framed proclamation that called for two minutes of silence across Minnesota on Thursday to observe the start of Wright’s funeral.
Sharpton, however, called it a “breakthrough” that so many police officers, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, testified against Chauvin.
“All cops aren’t bad — I saw 10 get on the stand the other day,” Sharpton said. “When you see the blue wall of silence tumble … that’s when we know a breakthrough is coming.”
After Wright’s burial at a nearby cemetery Thursday, attention will turn to the ongoing investigation into his fatal traffic stop. The family has said they reject the police narrative that Potter shot Wright by mistake and meant to grab her Taser. They want Potter, a member of the police force for 26 years before resigning after Wright’s shooting, to face tougher charges.
Potter was charged last week with second-degree manslaughter and is free on bond. The Washington County attorney, who is handling the case, said additional charges could be added as the investigation continues.