Update from Minnesota: Mourners hold vigil for Daunte Wright, while demonstrators clash with police nearby

Katie Wright speaks through tears at a vigil on April 12, 2021, near where her son, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, was killed by Brooklyn Center police the day before. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Hundreds of mourners filled the street at the corner of 63rd Avenue and Kathrene Drive in Brooklyn Center on Monday evening for a candlelight vigil where Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop on Sunday.

Through tears, Wright’s family shared memories of the young father with an “angelic” smile, and Twin Cities’ faith leaders called for the public to continue to fight to end police violence in a state still reeling from the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last May.

“He didn’t deserve this at all. My heart is literally broken into a thousand pieces,” Wright’s mom Katie Wright said. “I miss him so much already, and it’s only been a day. I can’t imagine what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day.”

The large wooden fist that was first erected in the middle of the intersection where Floyd died at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue — before being replaced by a metal version — was moved to the site of Wright’s death in the northern suburb, where mourners laid flowers and lit candles in Wright’s honor.

“My brother lost his life because they were trigger happy,” Wright’s older brother Dallas Bryant said, “I could tell my brother was scared. I could hear it in his voice. And for them to call it an accident or a mistake? To be honest, it’s just straight bulls***.”

Earlier on Monday, the Brooklyn Center police department released the body camera footage from the female officer — later identified as 26-year veteran Kimberly Potter — who shot Wright. It shows her shouting “taser!” three times before firing her gun at Wright, apparently mistaking it for her taser.

Several Twin Cities clergy offered prayers that also served as a call to action for people to sustain their support of Wright’s family and continue to fight for an end to police violence.

A spectator records demonstrators clashing with police near the Brooklyn Center police station on April 12, 2021. Hundreds protested the police shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Drawing a connection with the recent Easter celebration, Plymouth Congregational Church Rev. DeWayne Davis said a resurrection is an uprising.

“We are in an uprising. We are not going back to the places of death,” Davis said. “We’re not going to sit down. We’re getting up until all of our children can walk free, that we don’t have to call their names in lament anymore but only in celebration.”

The sound of helicopters could be heard overhead as the vigil ran up against a 7 p.m. curfew ordered by Gov. Tim Walz in Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka Counties following a night of unrest and looting Sunday, and escalating tensions after the release of the body camera footage. Sporadic looting broke out Monday night, as well.

Civil Right attorney Ben Crump, who earlier announced he would be representing the Wright family, paid his respects at the memorial. Crump represented the family of George Floyd in their civil lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, winning an unprecedented $27 million settlement.

“This was such an unnecessary killing.” Crump said while leaving the memorial. “The fact that they would stop this young man for having an air freshener and shoot and kill him. Now we can’t be Black and drive with an air freshener. America: We can do better.”

Wright’s family called for peace, asking mourners to go home after the vigil.

While the intersection where Wright died emptied out after the curfew, a crowd swelled just a few miles away at the Brooklyn Center police station.

Hundreds of protesters clashed with police in riot gear. Some protesters lobbed what appeared to be water bottles and fireworks over newly erected fencing surrounding the police station.

Police returned fire with chemical irritants, less lethal munitions and flash bangs, telling demonstrators to comply with the curfew and leave the area or else be arrested for unlawful assembly. Some tear gas canisters landed on the porches of people’s apartments just across the street from the police station.

Max Nesterak is a reporter for the Minnesota Reformer, which first published this story.

NC legislators aim to reduce Black maternal deaths

Democrats in the NC legislature are sponsoring bills meant to improve Black maternal health that mirror parts of the federal Momnibus Act championed by U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Charlotte Democrat.

The United States has one of the worst records for maternal death in the developed world. Black women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related health problems as white women.

“The U.S. is one of only 13 countries where maternal mortality is on the rise, and racial disparities drive this crisis,” Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Durham Democrat, said at a news conference Monday.

According to the NC Maternal Mortality Review Committee, 63% of maternal deaths in North Carolina from 2014-15 were preventable.

Senate bill 632 and House bill 507 would set up a task force looking at maternity care and births in the COVID-19 pandemic; study cooperation between military veterans’ health care facilities and non-veteran facilities in delivery of maternal care; set up a task force that would recommend ways to address how  transportation, housing, environment, and other factors influence maternal health; and develop a grant program for community organizations focused on preventing Black maternal deaths and severe illnesses.

Dr. Narges Farahi, leader of the Maternal Child Health program at UNC Family Medicine, said she has seen how illnesses in mothers lead to illnesses in children “and lost opportunities for families.”

The pregnancy-related mortality rate does not improve for Black women with college degrees as it does for white women, she said. Black women with college degrees are five times more likely to die than white women with college degrees.

Studies have shown that “being pregnant while Black is more likely to be a fight for health, wellness and life for mothers and for their children. This shines a light on the tremendous impact racism has on the health of Black women before, during, and after pregnancy,” Farahi said.

The Senate bill was assigned to the chamber’s Rules Committee, an indication that it is unlikely to pass. Murdock said she’s talked to leading legislators about the importance of reducing Black maternal mortality, and wanted to go “big and bold” with the proposal.

She noted that Senate Republicans have filed a bill that would have women who use Medicaid while they are pregnant stay on the government insurance plan for 12 months postpartum rather than getting cut off after 60 days – a bill that supporters of the Black maternal health bill had considered putting in their package.

Rep. Julie von Haefen, an Apex Democrat and a sponsor of the House bill, said the hope is to get some of the provisions included in the state budget the legislature passes.

“We do have some support for some provisions across the aisle,” she said.

North Carolina’s leadership serves as a model other states can emulate, said Breana Lipscomb, senior manager of the U.S. Maternal Health & Rights Initiative at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Few other states are looking at the impact of COVID-19, addressing access for women in the military to pregnancy and postpartum care, and acknowledging the role of community organizations in reducing maternal deaths, she said.

“Research shows that for Black and white women with the same risk factors and the same pregnancy complications, Black women are still more likely to die,” Lipscomb said. “This indicates that there is some factor other than an individual’s health condition that influences mortality risk for Black women.”

Responses to COVID-19 offer the chance to address racism in healthcare, experts said

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark relief how the health care system fails people with low incomes and people of color, panelists at a Duke University Margolis Center forum said last week.

Longstanding inequities in health care put people of color at greater risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms and death. The inequities continue with the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, with white people getting disproportionate share of vaccines.

“Our health care system doesn’t work well for low income, low health literacy, undocumented – that didn’t start with COVID,” said Abner Mason, founder and CEO of ConsejoSano, a company that works with health care providers and insurers on patient engagement that is multicultural and multilingual.

“It shocked people out of their relative acceptance of a horrible system,” he said.

Building trusting relationships with communities and individuals is essential to  improving health, the panelists said.

Students in the Margolis Scholars Program at Duke  organized the event.

Kumbie Madondo is director of Community Partnerships & Policy Solutions at the New York Academy of Medicine, which works with the New York City Department of Health. She said the city’s health department is addressing disparities and racism in healthcare.

“We need to call things as they are,” she said. “If there is racism in health care, call it for what it is. In the communities we serve, health disparities are borne out of racism.”

In North Carolina, Latinx communities get confusing information about vaccines, said doctors and community health workers.

Dr. Edith Nieves Lopez, a pediatrician at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham said CDC information about COVID-19 does not translate well into Spanish.

“Sadly, there are few things that you find online that are culturally sensitive that can relay information in a few sentences,” she said.

Lopez said it was her job to get people in the community to trust her.

Increasing access to care and making sustainable change is important, said Onyi Ohamidike, a third-year medical student.

“Community members need to see people who look like them” and share their experiences, she said. Often blame is put on communities for not being able to trust, she said, taking the focus off institutions that should become trustworthy,

“We might all look at ourselves at great, kind, empathetic people,” Ohamidike said. “We need to recognize that we are attached to an institution that has harmed a lot of people.”

Griselda Alonso, a community health worker, said it is important to get people in the Latinx community clear and accurate information.

It’s hard for the Latinx community to trust medicine when last year, they heard about a doctor sterilizing women held in an ICE detention center, Alonso said.

“Try to be empathetic with my community,” she said. “Leave your privilege to the side.”

New advisory board to review sentences of individuals tried in adult criminal court as teens

In keeping with “raise the age” law, Governor establishes new panel that can make recommendations for clemency

Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Thursday forming the state’s Juvenile Sentence Review Board. The advisory board will review the sentences of people who were tried in adult criminal court in their teens over a decade ago, and then make clemency and commutation recommendations to the governor, according to a press release.

Nowadays, most teens under 18 enter juvenile courts first if they don’t have criminal convictions, except if the conviction is a misdemeanor unrelated to impaired driving under North Carolina’s bipartisan Raise the Age Act. Yet before the state enacted the law in December 2019, 16 and 17-year-olds were automatically tried in the state’s adult criminal justice system regardless of their charges.

Back then, teens were denied the chance to have their cases heard in juvenile court proceedings, which includes counseling and rehabilitation and the North Carolina Judicial Branch describes as “more informal and protective than a criminal trial.” Gov. Cooper’s order now reviews the petitions of qualified individuals who missed the new opportunity before the law was passed and potentially received harsher sentences.

Those eligible to file petitions must have served at least 20 years of their active sentences, or 15 years of their minimal sentence if they have multiple sentences.

“For those who have taken significant steps to reform and rehabilitate themselves, this process can provide a meaningful opportunity for release and a life outside of prison,” Cooper said in the press release.

After receiving petitions, the board will then make recommendations based on a petitioner’s prison record, circumstances of their case as well as their mental health state at the time, rehabilitation results, the present risks to public safety, their family’s input and whether race unduly influenced their trial or sentencing.

Rep. Marcia Morey was appointed chair of the Juvenile Sentence Review Board created by Gov. Cooper.

In his order, Cooper laid out two main tasks of the board: to “promote sentencing outcomes that consider the fundamental differences between juveniles and adults” and to “address the structural impact of racial bias.”

Cooper appointed four members of the board, who serve at his pleasure:

  • Marcia Morey, chair of the review board, is the state representative for House District 30. Morey, D-Durham, was a district court judge in Durham for 18 years before serving as Chief District Court Judge for five years. She is a member of the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice and proposed several Raise the Age bills this year.
  • Henry McKinley “Mickey” Michaux Jr. is a civil rights attorney and a retired state legislator. He represented House District 31 twice, from 1973 through 1977, and then 1983 to 2019.
  • Thomas Walker is a partner at the Atlanta-based law firm of Alston & Bird. He is a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina from 2011 to 2016. He was a special counsel to Cooper when Cooper served as the state’s attorney general.
  • Allyson Duncan is a former judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District. Prior to her tenure on the federal appellate court, Duncan served as an associate judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, the first African American in that position.

Morey touted the task force as “a monumental step forward for juveniles who were sentenced as adults” in a tweet.

The board was created at the recommendation of the Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice.

The order is effective immediately through the end of 2024.

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