‘Today we came to honour the Prince of Brooklyn Center’: Al Sharpton leads impassioned funeral service for Daunte Wright

These are fraught days for Minneapolis – and the nation, writes Andrew Buncombe

Friday 23 April 2021 00:44 BST
Daunte Wight’s parents remember their son
Daunte Wight’s parents remember their son

It was probably the Rev Al Sharpton who put it best.

Who did the police think they were dealing with – some kid with an air freshener? 

Well, they were wrong, he said. Duante Wright was a prince, the prince of Brooklyn Center. He added: “Minneapolis is stopped today to honour the prince of Brooklyn Center.”

On Thursday, as the family of the 20-year-old man shot dead 10 days ago by police held a funeral service, they sought to highlight the different strands of a life cut woefully short – his love of basketball, his position as a beloved sibling, a doting father, and a son whose smile was “worth a million dollars”.

Yet, during a service at times markedly political and imbued with demands for racial justice, his life – and his fatal shooting after a traffic stop – was set against the backdrop of others who had lost their lives at the hands of the police: George Floyd, Jamar Clark, Philando Castile and Breonna Taylor.

Family members or relatives of most of those people were mentioned and honoured during the service at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis, along with the family of Emmett Till. All were members of a “fraternity” none wished to be part of.

“You can never fill the hole in their heart caused for no reason,” Mr Sharpton said about Mr Wright’s family.

Referring to the city’s late celebrated musical hero, who died in 2016, he added: “I haven’t seen a funeral like this since Prince. Well, we came to bury the prince of Brooklyn Center, because you hurt one of our princes.”

These have been fraught days in the Twin Cities. On the afternoon of Sunday, 11 April, as the trial of Derek Chauvin was coming to a conclusion, news broke of the killing of another unarmed Black man.

Al Sharpton says Minnesota needs ‘air freshener’ for ‘stench of police brutality’

The world’s media was alerted by the pleading for action from his mother, Katie Wright, even as her son’s body lay in the streets of Brooklyn Center, 10 miles north of Minneapolis.

The death triggered days of noisy protests, the firing of tear gas and rubber bullets, and the ousting of the police chief of that city of 30,000. It also resulted in Kim Potter, 48, an officer with more than 25 years experience, being charged with manslaughter after fatally shooting the young man.

And then as the jury in the trial of Chauvin delivered a guilty verdict, only the second Minnesota officer to be found guilty of murder, and the first white officer, details emerged of another fatal shooting, this time of a 16-year-old Black girl – Ma’Khia Bryant – in Ohio.

At times, the incidents have collided, and the life stories intertwined, in part because the lawyer Ben Crump has represented both the Floyd and Wright families, in their demands for justice.

Mr Crump said there would become a time when Daunte Wright’s son, Daunte Wright Jr, would “get old enough to watch that video of how his father was slain so unnecessarily. A misdemeanour, a misdemeanour”.

He added: “It’s too often that traffic stops end up as deadly sentences, a death sentence. [We need to tell his child] we stood up for Daunte, his father.”

In a row at the back of the church, a young woman kept wiping her eyes. She said she and Daunte Wright had been friends, and spoke by text message. 

Diamond Hurd, 20, pulled out a cell phone to show the last message from the young man, one she had not answered. “I did not get to say goodbye to him,” she said. “So I’ve had come to say goodbye today.”

The printed order of service was packed with photographs of the young man – posing with a basketball trophy, smiling with his son, laughing easily as he sat with the family as they drove somewhere. A video showed him as a young man, shadow boxing, perhaps with his father.

Service included repeated demands to push for racial justice

Mr Sharpton pointed out that Daunte’s had been the most modern of families, his parents had a biracial relationship, the sort of thing that was once illegal. 

When they took their turn, his parents, Katie and Aubrey Wright, gazing at the white casket containing the remains of their son, struggled to speak.

His mother said she had been up all night, nervously trying to find the correct words. Now, in this moment, she could not deliver them.

“I’m going to miss him so much,” she said. “My son had a smile that was worth a million dollars. When he walked in the room, he lit up the room.”

She said how happy he had been to become a father, and the “joy” his child had brought him. “He was so happy and so proud, and he said he couldn’t wait to make his son proud.”

Father Aubrey Wright and sister Diamond Wright arrive for a funeral held for Daunte Wright at Shiloh Temple International Ministries on April 22, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

His father said: “I don’t speak much. But I don’t know how I feel right now.”

One part of the service saw the Grammy winning jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold perform “Amazing Grace”, as an artist drew a painting of Daunte.

Last year, the musician hit the headlines after a white woman wrongly accused his son of stealing her phone at a hotel in New York. Mr Crump said the musician had “deescalated the situation”, unlike the police in Brooklyn Center.

Many speakers vowed to work to secure the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill, which has already been passed by the House, and next goes to the Senate. The bill seeks to “save lives by banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants” and would mandate “deadly force be used only as a last resort”.

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar said she would fight for the bill in the upper chamber. “We can do more, we must do more, because for too long changes come, inch by inch, when we should be miles ahead,” she said.

Daunte Wright's son, Daunte Wright Jr., is carried by grandmother Erica Whitaker, as she leads her daughter Chyna Whitaker, into the funeral services for Daunte Wright at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis

Meanwhile, congresswoman Ilhan Omar handed the young man’s parents a US flag that had been flown in his name from the US Capitol.

Mr Sharpton said the “time has come for police to understand that they’re not above the law, they’re to enforce the law”.

He referred to the expired tags on Daunte Wright’s vehicle, that officers claimed had led them to stop him, as well as the air freshener hanging from his mirror they claimed was in breach of the law. 

“We come today as the air fresheners of Minnesota, trying to get the stench of racial profiling and police brutality out of the air,” he said.

He added: “They said they stopped Daunte because his tags were expired. Well I came to tell Minneapolis that their tags have expired, the tags of white supremacy, injustice, inequality, and police brutality have expired.”

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