MINNEAPOLIS (NewsNation Now) — Hundreds of people wearing COVID-19 masks packed into Shiloh Temple International Ministries to remember Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old father of one who was shot by a white police officer on April 11 in the small city of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
On Thursday, Wright laid in a white casket at the center of the church, covered in red roses. His family members sat near the front of the church, wiping tears from their faces as an organist played gospel music.
The funeral was held just two days after former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in the death of George Floyd and amid a national reckoning on racism and policing.
“My son had a smile that was worth a million dollars. When he walked in the room, he lit up the room,” said Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother, who fought through sobs as she spoke.
Other family members, cousins and siblings, remembered Daunte as “the life of the party” and a father who lived for his beloved 2-year-old son Daunte Jr.
Wright was not “just some kid with an air freshener,” but a “prince” whose life ended too soon at the hands of police, the Rev. Al Sharpton said.
“The absence of justice is the absence of peace,” Sharpton said. “You can’t tell us to shut up and suffer. We must speak up when there is an injustice.”
The civil rights leader’s thundering eulogy included a stinging rebuke of the possibility that Wright was pulled over for having air fresheners dangling from his mirror. Wright’s mother has said her son called her after he was stopped and told her that was the reason. Police said it was for expired registration.
Brooklyn Center’s police chief said it appeared from body camera video that the officer who shot Wright used her pistol when she meant to use her Taser as Wright struggled with police. The 26-year veteran, Kim Potter, is charged with second-degree manslaughter. Both she and the chief resigned after the shooting.
Ben Crump, attorney for both the Floyd and Wright families, has called for more serious charges against Potter and said Wright’s son “is going to get old enough to watch that video of how his father was slain so unnecessarily. A misdemeanor, a misdemeanor.”
“It’s too often that traffic stops end up as deadly sentences, a death sentence,” Crump said, adding he wants Wright’s son to know, “We stood up for Daunte, his father.”
Daunte’s mother, Katie Wright, told mourners, “The roles should be completely reversed. My son should be burying me,” before burying her hands in her face.
Wright recalled her son becoming a father to a boy born prematurely: “He was so happy and so proud, and he said he couldn’t wait to make his son proud. Junior was the joy of his life. He lived for him every single day.”
Funeral attendees were brought to their feet when artist Ange Hillz painted a portrait of Wright — white paint on a black canvas — as trumpeter Keyon Harrold played “Amazing Grace” and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the Black national anthem.
More than a dozen members from an armed team of local men, the Minnesota Freedom Fighters, provided security.
And during a silent reading of Wright’s obituary, some could be heard crying softly.
Among the attendees at Shiloh Temple International Ministries, a church with a predominantly Black congregation, were Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, U.S. Senator from Minnesota Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents the congressional district encompassing Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.
George Floyd’s family was in attendance, as well as the loved ones of several other Black Americans who were killed: the mother of Philando Castile, the family of Emmett Till, the boyfriend of Breonna Taylor.
Addressing the congregation, Klobuchar promised to work to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act in the Senate, which the U.S. House of Representatives has passed and which aims to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.
“This is the urgent task before us,” Klobuchar said. “Racism in this country is not isolated, it is systemic.”
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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.