From Jon Rainwater, Peace Action Executive Director – April 13, 2021
Daunte Wright didn’t have to die. That’s what I keep thinking, and you may be thinking that, too. He shouldn’t have died. This young man should still be alive to watch his son, Daunte Jr., grow up.
But Daunte did die, after another traffic stop spiraled into another police homicide. The common denominator in these tragedies is a nationwide culture of police militarism, fueled by implicit bias and outright racism. This culture leads to the disproportionate use of force just as Peace Action often sees in wars. Here, it is community members across the country who are “othered” as if they are “the enemy.” George Floyd lost his life just a few miles away from where Daunte was killed. Breonna Taylor lost hers in her own apartment in Louisville, Kentucky when mistaken identity escalated into a volley of gunfire. Oscar Grant was another Black man in his twenties shot by an officer claiming he mistook a gun for a taser, here in my home town of Oakland, California. Each one of these people did not need to die. So too, others, too many to name.
As you know, this culture of militarism goes beyond these individual tragedies. Within hours of Daunte’s death, police were actively ordered to fire rubber bullets and launch “flash-bang” grenades at protesters. Chemical agents that the 1925 Geneva Protocol would forbid in war zones were used against Brooklyn Center’s grief stricken community members. Studies have repeatedly shown that this type of militaristic force at protests escalates tense situations and actually makes violence by both the police and protesters more likely.
In Congress leaders like Reps. Nydia Velázquez (NY-7) and Hank Johnson (GA-4) are taking on police militarism. Rep. Johnson has been pushing for change for years and recently reintroduced his Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. Rep. Velázquez plans to introduce her Demilitarizing Local Law Enforcement Act of 2021 this week as well.
Obviously we need to rebuild how we keep U.S. communities safe – from the ground up. This problem is rooted in the legacy of, and present day reality of, racism and white supremacy. There will be no single, easy solution. We need activism locally, at the state level, and at the national level.
Please write your member of Congress and ask them to end the programs that are sending surplus Pentagon weapons of war to local police departments. Research shows that these equipment transfers actually help to foster a culture of militarization that makes the type of excessive force that killed Daunte Wright more likely.
The authors of one study summarized their findings in the Washington Post: “When a county goes from receiving no military equipment to $2,539,767 worth (the largest figure that went to one agency in our data), more than twice as many civilians are likely to die in that county the following year.”
Reimagining what real public safety looks like includes moving the money from militarized policing to instead invest in a smarter approach. That’s ultimately how we can move from a legacy based on racism to greater social justice. We need better funded public health programs to address crises like the COVID pandemic which is hitting communities of color the hardest. We need funding for housing, drug treatment, and mental health services so we aren’t asking police to deal with problems they are ill equipped to deal with. Creating a renewed approach to community safety will take a long-term, comprehensive approach. But one thing we can do right away is block military equipment paid for with our federal tax dollars from being funneled to police departments. That step immediately helps us move away from the culture of militarism driving the loss of life in too many communities.
For a more just and peaceful tomorrow for all,
P.S. If you wish to help support the family of Daunte Wright at this tragic time in their lives, you can help them out here.
 “Militarization has fostered a policing culture that sets up protesters as ‘the enemy’”’. Rice University, Kinder Institute for Urban Research, June 10 2020. “Police tear gas protesters despite proof it’s dangerous”, NBC News, June 11 2020.
“Does military equipment lead police officers to be more violent? We did the research.”, Washington Post, June 30, 2017.