On Sunday, April 11, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was driving with his girlfriend in Brooklyn Center, Minn., when an armed posse, under the color and authority of the law, recognized the fact that he hadn’t paid for a sticker on his license plate.
After stopping Wright for not having the decal that permitted him to drive down their streets, the weapon-wielding money extraction team discovered that Wright also owed $128 for a victimless crime in 2019, and another $188 for a 2020 victimless crime that caused no harm to a single soul. But, because the gun-toters had sworn an oath to imprison anyone who owed money for not paying money, the officers attempted to place him in chains until he paid more money.
Less than a year earlier, a similar gang killed a man over $20 after placing him in the same kinds of chains. This happened 10 miles from where Daunte Wright was being handcuffed. According to Minneapolis police data, Black drivers like Daunte are five times more likely to be stopped for moving violations or vehicle equipment infractions, a crime that can only be solved by paying money to the poverty enforcement street team.
Daunte, clearly not wanting to die, jumped back in the car. During an ensuing struggle, Kim Potter, one of the debt collectors’ posse, pulled out a device she carries that is specifically designed to kill people. Potter, who was professionally trained to use the instrument of death, didn’t need it. She also carried a substance that poisoned a person’s skin and another device that sent enough voltage through a person’s body to power 400 refrigerators. Although she had the option of poisoning or electrocuting Wright for owing money because he owed money when they stopped him for owing money, Potter used the machine meant to kill people.
Potter would later claim that she only meant to electrocute Wright, drive him to the gang’s headquarters and lock him in a cage until he dished out a week’s pay for the victimless crimes. Potter’s superiors confirmed that she didn’t mean to use the killing machine. According to them, it was just an accident that anyone could make who had 26 years of experience of using the deadliest weapons every day.
As a dead person, the 20-year-old debt defaulter no longer has a past due bill with the armed money collection squad protecting the fair residents of Brooklyn Center, Minn. from the loss of $314.
But he is not free to go.
This is how the story of Daunte Wright should be told.
Daunte Wright’s story is not an outlier. Every day, the people who are paid to protect us from crime engage in the practice of debt collection. Furthermore, the majority of this money extraction scheme falls on the backs of Black and brown Americans. While it is impossible to prove how many cops are racist, it is quite simple to prove that the system of policing results in the disproportionate deaths and brutality inflicted upon Black bodies.
I think there’s a word for a system that’s racist.
The Stanford Open Policing Project, the largest police stop data collection study ever, found that Black drivers were about 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers relative to their share of the residential population and 1.5 to 2 times more likely to be searched. This nationwide phenomenon persists, despite the fact that white drivers are more likely to be carrying drugs, guns, or other illegal contraband. And those increased interactions with police by Black and brown citizens, account for higher rates of police brutality. It is entirely possible that police don’t intend to kill more Black people. Maybe they truly just intend to stop, search, and arrest more Black people and the shooting-Black-people-in-the-face-part is just an unintended side-effect.
Perhaps the police aren’t just violent. Maybe they’re violent and lazy. And since they already have Black people lined up on the side of the road...why not?
Take Caron Nazario for instance. The Army veteran had a license tag when he was stopped by Windsor, Va., police for the egregious crime of not having a license tag. While pepper-spraying a man who posed no threat seems outrageous to some, what about the part where cops are so worried about license tags? Forget about the resisting part, Eric Garner was choked to death over “loosie” cigarettes. Regardless of whether he had drugs in his system, George Floyd still had the change from the $20 bill in his pocket when Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck.
Thankfully, Rocky Rudolph lived when he was shot for having his windows tinted. Kenneth Jones didn’t have his hazard lights on. O’shae Terry had an expired tag. Then, there are these names:
- 34-year-old Robert D’Lon Harris was shot and killed by an Oklahoma State Trooper during a traffic stop.
- A Georgia trooper shot and killed 60-year-old Julian Edward Roosevelt Lewis was shot over a burned-out tail light.
- Mickel Erich Lewis Sr. was killed after a Kern County, Calif. deputy pulled him over for a vehicle code violation.
- Jenoah Clark, 30, had a broken tail light. He spent a week on life support before succumbing to injuries.
I could name others, such as Breonna Taylor, who was not selling drugs, or Rashard Brooks who was asleep in his car. But those people don’t qualify for because the previous list is just some of the unarmed Black people who were killed during a stop for a minor traffic infraction in the past 365 days.
In a recent editorial, a retired Birmingham, Ala., police captain concluded that his department’s policy of ticketing and arrests was, “in effect creating criminals out of people whose only crime was that they were poor,” adding:
Those officers are expected to show productivity by making arrests and writing citations. Because of this, we have created an environment where officers are almost forced to make a lot of arrests or write numerous citations.
As one officer told me upon being transferred from another precinct to mine, “Don’t worry Captain .... I go after a lot of the low hanging fruit.”
...This “low hanging fruit” mentality is created when officers feel pressure to “produce” enforcement actions.
Also, it doesn’t work. An NYU study shows that increased revenue collection actually decreases the percentage of crimes that police departments solve. When WBEZ and ProPublica Illinois looked at more than 50 million tickets issued in Chicago, they found that Chicagoans paid $2.8 billion in fines and citations, but had $1.8 billion in outstanding debt to the city.
There is no possible way that all of the above researchers, reporters and random people know this is going on and police don’t. Instead of resisting, complying, accidents or all of the other excuses we whisper over dead bodies, when we are pulled over, maybe we should ask about the systemic issue right in front of us:
How much would it cost for you to let me live?
I might be able to scrounge up $314.