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Officer Who Shot And Killed Minnesota Man Claims She Confused Gun For Taser

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has called a 7 p.m. curfew for much of the Twin Cities tonight. This comes after tensions ratcheted up there following news that a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center killed a young Black man yesterday afternoon when officers tried to arrest him during a traffic stop. NPR's Martin Kaste is in the Twin Cities and joins us now.

Hey, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: All right. So how much do we know about what happened during that traffic stop?

KASTE: Well, today we saw the video from the body camera worn by the female officer who shot him. Daunte Wright had been pulled over on a traffic stop, but police then found there was a warrant for his arrest. In the video, you can see him standing by his car in the process of being handcuffed when he suddenly breaks free and jumps back into his car. There's a struggle briefly. The female officer yells, Taser, Taser, Taser. But you can see in the video that she's holding a firearm. She shoots him and immediately says an expletive, followed by, I shot him. And the officers standing around her looked stunned. And right now her chief is calling this an accident.

CHANG: An accident - and what's been the response so far to that explanation?

KASTE: Initial reaction has not been very good. One African American woman protesting outside the police department there during the press conference told me nothing is an accident. And you have to remember this is a very diverse suburb, about 30% Black. In fact, the mayor, Mike Elliott, was born in Liberia. And here's what he had to say about the situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE ELLIOTT: Our hearts are aching right now. We are in pain right now. And we recognize that this couldn't have happened at a worse time.

CHANG: Of course, all of this happened while the trial of Derek Chauvin is still unfolding. He's a former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd. How do you think that trial has affected what's happened in Brooklyn Center?

KASTE: Well, the region was already on high security alert. Ahead of the Chauvin trial, the governor here, Tim Walz, created something called Operation Safety Net, the idea being to offer law enforcement protection to peaceful protesters while at the same time quickly sending extra riot police and even National Guard to places where things might get - might be getting violent. The plan was already in place, and now they are stepping it up, accelerating to the next phase. Overnight, National Guard and armored vehicles appeared in new places around the city. But that's also worrying people like Matthew Branch. He's a Brooklyn Center resident. I talked to him. He was protesting yesterday, and he was shocked by the speed with which the riot police showed up.

MATTHEW BRANCH: It was terrifying how fast there were that many police officers armed to the teeth who could respond that quickly. They were aggressive. They were intimidating. They were agitating the crowd. And you could feel the energy change when they left the vicinity.

CHANG: Is that opinion widely shared - that riot police are making the situation worse?

KASTE: Well, there's a deep divide on this. This morning a group of Black community leaders in Brooklyn Center met with the mayor and the police chief, and they were livid about how police there had used stun grenades and tear gas last night, when protesters gathered outside police headquarters. They were especially offended by the way police turned off the lights inside the department and shined bright lights at the crowd.

But on the other hand, today I saw a white man delivering water and snacks to the officers guarding the department. And a lot of Minnesotans are very worried about a repeat of last summer, the violence and the destruction - for instance, Tony Hardy. I met him at the local shopping center there, where he was volunteering to sweep up broken glass outside cellphone stores that had been looted last night. But now the National Guard was setting up nearby.

TONY HARDY: Finally they're here, at least. So that's good. We need them.

KASTE: So the question, really, tonight is whether police and National Guard will stay real visible like Hardy wants or hang back and try to avoid provocation, which is what some of the community activists in places like Brooklyn Center are saying would be the better path.

CHANG: That is NPR's Martin Kaste, who is in the Twin Cities.

Thank you, Martin.

KASTE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAIRO SONG, "ALEWIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.