The killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year old Black man from Minneapolis, Minnesota has shaken our nation to its core. Following a year defined by mass protests against police brutality, Wright’s unjust killing during a traffic stop is especially substantial.
Pulled over for a traffic violation, Wright was shot and killed by then-Officer Kimberly Potter, who claims to have mistaken her gun for a taser. This deadly mix-up was not just a simple error but instead the result of an officer’s gross negligence and implicit bias.
The deliberate use of deadly police force against Black Americans is plaguing the United States. The killings of Wright, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude and so many others show that unarmed Black men are preemptively criminalized and denigrated by law enforcement. From accidental shootings to deadly restraint techniques, officers utilized extreme forms of force in these cases, and then blamed the victims’ physical attributes, criminal records, or past substance use as justification for their unjust deaths. These alleged extenuating circumstances still do not warrant the extra-judicial killing of civilians.
We must also reject the dehumanization of figures like Wright and Floyd, whose lives have been turned into public spectacles. People should assist the victims of police brutality through restorative justice practices such as mutual aid funding and direct donations to their families. Use caution when reposting traumatic images and videos of police violence and be mindful of the harm in performative social media activism.
Senseless police violence has terrorized the Black community throughout U.S. history. Since the racialized subjugation of African Americans during slavery, Blackness has been and continues to be brutally policed throughout history in the forms of public lynchings, torture and excessive force. According to a 2020 study conducted by Jaquelyn Jahn and Gabriel Schwartz from the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, Black people are more than three times as likely as white people to be killed during a police encounter. Though this varies by location, Black people in cities like Chicago are over 650% more likely to be killed by police than their white neighbors.
For its efforts to combat the unlawful killing of Black people, the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) has won international recognition. As BLM mourns the victims of deadly police force, the organization has caused victims to become symbols of the movement. Victims have been elevated to public spectacles, as their stories, struggles and faces permeate social media and news shows. The families of victims did not ask for their loved ones to become martyrs — they just wanted them to live.
Moreover, though BLM does substantial work as an organization, it’s overloaded with funds that will take time to reach the families that need them most. Additionally, the movement is becoming increasingly politicized, turning the victims of police brutality into a point of national debate. Instead, to ensure victims’ loved ones receive the support they need, we should turn to direct donations, mutual aid pages and other, more targeted forms of support.
Images and videos of police brutality on social media are harming Black people’s mental health. Seeing videos shared repeatedly across social media is a reminder of the violence they endure. What’s more, sharing videos of anti-Black violence only serves to normalize violence. This isn’t to say we should not spread these videos, but rather that we should do so mindfully. Add content warnings and understand the audience with whom you’re sharing them with. Social media activism only scrapes the surface of what you can do to advocate for Black people — you should do more than just reshare an Instagram story.
There are lots of ways to support victims’ families that are more effective than creating spectacles on social media. Donating to mutual aid funds like The Brooklyn Center Protestor and Resident Safety Mutual Aid, which functions to directly support the community response to Wright’s murder, is a great way to start. You can support his family directly through his girlfriend’s Venmo and Cashapp, as well as the GoFundMe organized by Wright’s aunt. After any event of police brutality and anti-Black racism, it is necessary to coalesce our efforts, minimize the damage done to the Black community and support victims without making them martyrs.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Sahar Al-Gazzali, Viviana Barreto, Rachel Broun, Jake Busch, Sara Khan, Martin Shane Li, Sophia Ling, Demetrios Mammas, Sara Perez, Leah Woldai and Lynnea Zhang.