“Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.”– Jim Morrison
Perusing through Facebook and Twitter is an enlightening experience. It can be said that the Daunte Wright case is not an exceptional case to wage a war based on racism. The individual had an arrest warrant and his actions could be seen as resisting arrest. The case only becomes about racism if we assert that the officer in question pulled her revolver on purpose. We obviously can’t know that.
The racism war isn’t based on the case itself. It is based on people’s collective reaction to the case. A colleague posted a picture of Wright brandishing a gun from his social media platform. I will assume it is Instagram, but I’m pretty ignorant to that particular platform. His stated reason (after I challenged him on it) was that he was simply counterbalancing the narrative of Wright as a saint.
The problem with that is that there was no narrative of Wright as a saint in the mainstream media. There was a narrative of Wright as a victim of a police overreaction. I think there is a mass confusion over the word victim. Victim and saint are not the same thing. There are murder victims in this country every day. Some are good people and some are bad people. None of them are saints.
Wright may or may not have been murdered. It depends on whether you believe the officer really did mistakenly pull her revolver instead of her taser. His death was ruled a homicide. That means he did not die of natural causes. He shouldn’t be dead. Whether it is murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide is for a court to decide. We can call him a victim whether he be good or bad.
There are any number of problems with such photographs. The first problem is that it plays into a narrative. When most people see a black person with a gun they immediately go to a dark place (no pun intended). There are immediate assumptions made. It’s a different visceral reaction then when we see a white person with a gun. Maybe he legitimately looks more threatening. It’s highly prejudicial.
Whether the person disseminating the photos is racist or not is an open question. The intent is there. They know what they are doing. The not so subtle implication is that this was a bad guy. This was a dangerous guy. This was a “criminal boy” as someone on my Facebook feed said. This is in spite of the fact that Wright had never been convicted of a crime. He has been charged yes and he was out on bail, but technically not a criminal. So therefore, the police were justified at least somewhat in taking his life. The purpose in showing the photos is to somehow mitigate the culpability of the officers and paint the victim as anything but a victim.
What the people on my feed seemed to misunderstand is that there is a huge double standard. We can see pictures of Lauren Boebert with all kinds of guns strapped to her and she is seen as a defender of the second amendment. We see other prominent politicians and the thought is the same. We see pictures of average people doing the same and the thought is no different. So, why does our mind go to criminal when we see a black man holding a gun?
The other prejudicial thing about the photos is that it introduces evidence that wasn’t know at the time of the encounter. What we know is that he had an arrest warrant for a misdemeanor gun charge. He was out on bail for another charge. This is relevant information. The pictures are not. They are meant to cloud our judgment after the fact.
It is a not so subtle way to shift the conversation away from where it should be. We should be talking about police procedure. Was it followed on that day? If so, then do we need to reconsider our procedures? Maybe and maybe not. I think reasonable adults can disagree on this point and I’m certainly willing to keep an open mind.
What we cannot do is short-change the African American community and their pain. Their pain is real whether Daunte Wright was a good person or just a guy on his way to prison. The same is true for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Complete innocence and victimhood do not necessarily go hand in hand. You do not have to have a clean criminal record to be a victim. The only question is whether you should be dead or not.
The efforts to find dirt on Wright after the fact are misplaced. Some seem to think it somehow impugns the Black Lives Matter movement to call for justice when the victim may not have been a great guy. We can not afford to wait around for the perfect victim. They certainly cannot afford to wait. We can stand with them or not. If we choose to sit this one out then there may be no one available to stand for us when it is our turn.