With the death of twenty-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minn., at the hands of Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter, UW-Madison student activists have redoubled calls for change that have been near-continuous throughout the academic year.
Occurring just 10 miles from downtown Minneapolis, Wright, a Black man, was shot and killed by Potter as a result of an “accidental discharge,” said Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, stating that Potter instead intended to tase Wright. Both Potter and Gannon have since resigned.
“We have no words for what happened in Minnesota,” read a statement from the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition on Tuesday. “We wish that we did, but there are no words to describe the despair and seemingly endless frustration that we feel.”
The coalition confirmed to The Cardinal that multiple members who had traveled to Brooklyn Center to protest Wright’s killing had been arrested Tuesday night and were being held in Hennepin County Jail.
Jordan Kennedy, a UW-Madison junior and co-founder of the coalition, views the killing of Wright as a grim reminder of reality and the need for change.
“When we look at the overall stature of police, it is really just authority,” said Kennedy. “It really is just power. It has nothing to do with keeping people safe.”
The killing of Wright comes as the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd last spring, is underway — which is only adding more pain to an already aching community, according to the StarTribune. Kennedy feels that the death of Wright confirms the polices’ lack of safety and concern, even as increased scrutiny of police surrounding the trial dominates national conversations.
“I would expect that during this time [the police] would be on extra watch to make sure that they are being careful,” said Kennedy. “But as we have seen with the response to the trial and the response to the protests after Daunte’s killing, you can see that they really don’t care.”
The rethinking of the number of resources that go into police departments across the country compared to community and social programs, such as education and after-school programs, as well as the abolition of the police, are at the essence of change, said Kennedy.
“[So], actually making the livelihoods and communities that we live in better and safer, overall,” said Kennedy. “Rather than trying to police them and make everyone unsafe.”
In Kennedy’s view, to address issues relating to police violence and racial injustice, it is not just the systems and institutions that require upheaval but the perspectives of those seemingly unaffected.
“It should be a priority for everyone,” said Kennedy. “Because even now, people argue about Black Lives Matter being a political issue, but it’s not.”
“It’s a human issue,” continued Kennedy. “And if white supremacy isn’t taken on as a direct threat to humanity, then it is really difficult for these [changes] to happen.”
In an email sent out to all students on Tuesday, UW-Madison Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Diversity & Inclusion Dr. Cheryl B. Gittens outlined the university’s commitment to supporting and advocating for BIPOC community members. It also encouraged students to utilize campus resources for support and seek community and action.
Nevertheless, Kennedy does not feel supported by UW-Madison and university administrators, emphasizing that the coalition has been denied meetings with officials this semester despite securing two ensured meetings with administrators per semester, last fall.
“It is being actively oppressed, actively silenced,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy sees parallels between the ways in which police departments and UW-Madison work have emerged, claiming that both institutions seek to operate on their own terms while ensuring that “they have the power” and that “they have the authority.”
“With [the] UW administration, specifically, they do not want anything to happen unless it is under their decision making, on their terms and enacted in their ways,” Kennedy said, underscoring that this “is simply not how things should work in a public university.”
Student input is critical, according to Kennedy, as the university “works for [students].”
The COVID-19 Relief Fund — a point of contention among student activists and university officials this semester — is just one example of UW’s lack of support for BIPOC student voice, said Kennedy.
“Everything being done was ways for [the university] to block what we were doing, ways for them to make sure that if we were making decisions it was on their terms, making sure that if we made decisions it would not be something that would be out of their control,” continued Kennedy.
Ultimately, Kennedy hopes that university administrators will take part in recognizing and acknowledging the urgency for change.
“We pay the money that goes into their payroll, yet we have no say in how our lives are actually affected and that is something that needs to change,” said Kennedy. “And that’s what we [the UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition] are fighting to do.”
“It’s definitely small steps in a very, very long fight,” emphasized Kennedy.
On Tuesday, it was also announced that Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey who shot Jacob Blake last summer will return to work — sparking more frustration among coalition members.
“Once again, we are left absolutely lost for words and the only ones we can muster is f*ck this, f*ck 12, and abolish the police now,” read a tweet from the coalition. “To our black community members, we love you. Your life matters. We are here to support you however we can.”
The UW-Madison BIPOC Coalition is hosting a solidarity and unity march, beginning at Camp Randall, on April 18th at 2:00 p.m.