Daunte Wright Was A Beloved Son And Father Who Always Had A Smile On His Face, Loved Ones Said
"Even through hard times he always had a smile on his face," one friend told BuzzFeed News. "I still remember his laugh in my head."
Daunte Wright was the kind of person friends and family said they could always count on. He was funny and had big dreams for his future. He loved his family and his baby boy.
But the 20-year-old was shot to death by police Sunday afternoon during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, becoming the latest Black man to be killed during an encounter with law enforcement. He died just a few miles away from where George Floyd was killed last summer. Wright’s killing sparked a new wave of protests at the same time that Derek Chauvin, the cop who killed Floyd, is being tried for murder.
“This time last year, almost a year ago, [the Floyd family] were facing the unimaginable. They were facing the agony of losing a family member to police excessive force," civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing both the Floyd and Wright families, said at a press conference Tuesday. "And it is unbelievable — it is just something I could not fathom — that in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a suburb 10 miles from where the Chauvin trial regarding George Floyd was taking place, that a police officer would shoot and kill another unarmed Black man."
In press conferences and media appearances, Wright’s family have sought to paint a fuller picture of the man beyond the headlines of his death. Mother Katie Wright told Good Morning America that Wright was a son, grandson, sibling, and uncle. He was also a basketball fanatic, she said, who will now never get to play ball with his own infant son.
"My son was an amazing, loving kid," Katie said. "He had a big heart.”
On an old Facebook profile page, Wright often posted about gearing up for basketball games. In 2014, when he was just 13, he wrote confidently that he was “bout to try to drop 20 points" at a game.
After his death, a Facebook page supporting local youth sports shared an undated photo of Wright and his teammates, reminiscing about the time he spent playing basketball. "Rest in peace to one of Heights very own," the post read. "We shared many hours in the gym with you Daunte Wright."
A sister of one of Wright's close friends, who asked not to be identified, told BuzzFeed News Wright was a big Chicago Bulls fan. Aside from basketball, he loved to play video games and hang out with his friends, she said, describing Wright as “the life of the party.”
“He was just a really good friend,” she said. “We considered him to be our brother.”
The woman said Wright was someone friends could always count on and that she felt she could open up to him about anything. She recalled one summer night a couple of years ago when he was at their house for a bonfire and went to sit with her because he could tell she had been crying. “I was kind of going through a breakup,” she said. “He came and put his arm around me and let me know that I deserve so much more and that I was going to get it. And I shouldn't settle for less.”
She said Wright wanted to get a degree and “prove to himself that he could make it out of Brooklyn Park, Minneapolis.”
“He was just trying to turn his life around,” she said.
Jonathan Mason, who mentored Wright when he was a student at Edison High School, recalled at a vigil how he dreamed of owning a business one day. "He was someone who had a future," Mason said. "Daunte was funny, he was lively. He was the center of attention. He had a very, very welcoming personality. He would joke with you back and forth."
Aly Phay, 21, who met Wright through friends a few years ago, told BuzzFeed News Wright wanted to become "rich and famous" and was focused on making money and taking care of his son. She described him as a "one-of-a-kind" friend and someone who would always check up on her.
Wright's cousin, Mario Greer, said the 4th of July was their favorite holiday to spend together. They loved to shoot Roman candles at each other in the summer heat. "We're not gonna be able to do that no more," Greer said.
Friends and family remembered Wright's smile as one that, as his mom put it, would "light up the room it was so big and bright."
“That’s what I remember most about him," Phay said. "Even through hard times he always had a smile on his face! I still remember his laugh in my head.”
His brother Dallas Bryant described him at a vigil as an average 20-year-old who loved to drive around and listen to music. But, Bryant said, Wright stood out for his fierce loyalty and compassion. "He is the kid to give you the shirt off of his back,” Bryant said. “He is the most loyal person to anybody."
Law enforcement officials have said officers pulled Wright over because of an expired registration tag on his car. When they ran his name through their system, they found he had a warrant out for his arrest because of a missed virtual court appearance for misdemeanor charges of carrying a handgun without a permit and running from police last June.
While officers attempted to arrest him, Wright tried to break free and get back in his car. Body camera footage shows the officer who killed Wright, Kim Potter, warned she would tase him, but then she fatally shot him. Police have said the officer appeared to mistake her handgun for a Taser. Both she and the city’s chief of police have since resigned. Potter is now facing a second-degree manslaughter charge.
Katie Wright has said her son was scared of the police. She told reporters that after he was pulled over he called her because the officers were asking about the car's insurance. Wright told her he had been pulled over because he had air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror. (In some states, including Minnesota, it's illegal to dangle any object from a rearview mirror.) "I said, ‘OK, when the police officer comes back to the window, put him on the phone and I can give him all our insurance information,’" she said.
A moment later, Katie said she heard the police officer return and ask Daunte to get out of the car. "He said, ‘Am I in trouble?’ [The officer] said, ‘We’ll explain all that when you step out of the car,'" Katie recalled.
They asked her son to put the phone down, and then she heard some scuffling before the officer asked Daunte and a female passenger who was in the car to hang up. When Katie called back, the female passenger answered the phone and told her the police had shot her son.
Crump, the attorney, said Wright did not pose a threat to the police and was trying to flee because he was scared. "Was it the best decision? No, but young people don’t always make the best decisions,” he said.
During the press conference Tuesday, the Wright family was joined by relatives of Floyd and Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was abducted, beaten, shot, and killed in 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi. Their presence demonstrated the pain Black people have endured for generations.
"Can you blame Daunte for being terrified, as a Black man in the custody of police? When you just watched, here in Minneapolis, George Floyd murdered at the hands of the very same police, and who was unarmed?" said Brandon Williams, Floyd's nephew. "At some point, we need change. At some point, we need better policing. At some point, we need officers to be held accountable, charged, and convicted."