Daunte Wright Killing Renews Push to Remove Armed Police From Traffic Duty

Bloomberg Quicktake: Now published this video item, entitled “Daunte Wright Killing Renews Push to Remove Armed Police From Traffic Duty” – below is their description.

On Sunday afternoon, Daunte Wright was pulled over for having expired registration tags in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. When police approached his vehicle, officers also noticed an item hanging on his rear-view mirror — an air-freshener — which is illegal in Minnesota. A few minutes later, Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was dead, shot by white police officer Kim Potter. According to Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, Potter had meant to deploy her Taser. Both Potter and Gannon resigned on Tuesday, and Potter now faces second-degree manslaughter charges.

Traffic stops — the most common interaction between police and the public — disproportionately affect Black people. The incident, which bears a resemblance to several other high-profile police killings of Black people in recent years, has sparked several nights of protests in the Minneapolis region and rekindled demands from lawmakers, activists and legal scholars to remove traffic enforcement from other police duties in U.S. cities.

“Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Daunte Wright,” tweeted Representative Cori Bush of Missouri on Monday. “All their deaths began with a traffic stop. Remove police from traffic enforcement. We can’t keep adding names to this list.”

That appeal is an element in the broader “defund the police” movement, which gained traction through the racial justice protests of 2020 by calling to decrease or eliminate funding for police departments and reimagine policing duties. It has so far produced mixed results: Some cities actually increased budgets for law enforcement, while others took steps such as decreasing police presence in schools and transit systems and shifting funds to community benefit programs and mental health crisis response teams. Only one city, Berkeley, California, moved to prohibit police officers from conducting traffic stops and transfer that duty to unarmed traffic agents. That plan is still taking shape, and similar proposals have been debated in Cambridge, Massachusetts; St. Louis Park, Minnesota; Montgomery County, Maryland; New York City; and the state of Florida.

But what would removing police from traffic enforcement actually look like? How did policing become so intimately entwined with American roads, and can that relationship be undone? Sarah Seo, a professor of law at Columbia University, explored those questions in her 2019 book Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom. She talked to CityLab recently about the future of law enforcement in a post-traffic-stop world. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

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