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I hadn’t planned to write about Daunte Wright even after his tragic death on Sunday. What could I, a white man, say that would mean anything?

After several attempts I realized I couldn’t write about anything else until I wrote about him. For what it’s worth.

I think the most important thing to say about Daunte Wright’s death is that he was only 20 years old. His life had hardly begun and now it is over. I keep asking myself how I would feel if he had been one of my six grandchildren? How would I handle it? Is there anything that could bring me comfort, our family comfort?

I don’t know what it would be. How can you be comforted when a death is senseless because it was completely unnecessary? This one should have never happened. 

Kim Potter killed him, but she was hardly the only reason Daunte is dead. The moment he was stopped the other officers made sure the outcome was virtually inevitable. They surrounded his car as if he had killed someone himself. 

Kim Potter pulled the wrong trigger. The other officers created the situation that led to it happening. All of them should resign. 

Some people say Officer Potter is devastated by what happened. By all accounts she is a nice person and a good police officer. It doesn’t really matter now. She’s alive and Daunte Wright is dead. She gets to feel devastated. He doesn’t get to feel anything.

That’s the story here. A young man with his whole life ahead of him is dead.

He is not dead, though, only because Kim Potter pulled her gun instead of her taser. He’s dead because he was black. 

It’s called systemic racism. It’s a phrase that needs definition. It is more than discrimination that is inherent in systems, organizations, institutions. It is far more personal than that.

Systemic racism is an attitude white people have toward people of color born of our personal upbringing and the racism embedded in our history and in our culture. It is an attitude that resides in our unconscious mind and affects our behavior without our being aware of it. 

That unconscious attitude gives rise to unfounded beliefs among white people that black men and women are intellectually inferior, less responsible morally, lacking in individual initiative, often are lazy, seldom trustworthy. 

This is systemic racism. Anyone who is white but denies systemic racism is real is proving the point. The most obvious expression of systemic racism is a denial that it exists.

It is why Daunte Wright is dead. It’s why George Floyd is dead. Philando Castile. Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor. And all the other black men and women who are dead because the police shot them. None of the police who killed them has ever admitted they suffer from systemic racism.

They’re wrong, and nothing will ever change until they and every white police office like them admit the truth about themselves. 

It is not the fault of white people that we suffer from systemic racism because we didn’t choose to be white. What is our fault is denying it is real. 

Police who deny it are more dangerous than the rest of us because they possess both lethal force and legal authority to kill. That is why black men and women are dead who should still be alive. 

Our country is past the time to stop this carnage. Some police departments are already taking steps on their own to make policing better. Too many are not. 

The federal government needs to step in and deny federal funding to any department that refuses to develop a process of educating its force on systemic racism.

Had the Brooklyn Center police department spent the last year understanding how systemic racism affects its officers, Daunte Wright might still be alive. Had they developed new policies to prevent traffic stops from escalating into someone dying, Daunte Wright might still be alive.

Prejudice may not have a color, but the crisis we are facing is not about white people being shot by the police. It is about black people being shot by the police.

This is not a time for defending the police. They don’t need defending. They need to be respected and trusted, but that will only happen as a by-product of just the opposite, of the police respecting and trusting the communities where they serve.

When police departments understand that, change may actually happen. The worry is how many more deaths that diminish all of us will happen before it does.

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