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Minnesota State Rep. Esther Agbaje: 'We Are Living In A Continuous State Of Trauma'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We are living in a continuous state of trauma. That is what Minnesota state Representative Esther Agbaje told a local newspaper in Minneapolis this week. She was referring to two separate tragedies that people are trying to process right now - the death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was killed by a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb on Sunday, and the death of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd's neck, is on trial for murder in Minneapolis right now. Agbaje, who is a Democrat, released a statement with the Minnesota United Black Legislative Caucus that said this cycle is unacceptable and can't be the norm. Representative Agbaje joins us now.

Welcome.

ESTHER AGBAJE: Thank you so much, Ailsa. It's nice to be here.

CHANG: It's nice to have you with us. Can you just tell me - what does it feel like to be in Minneapolis right now? You represent a large part of the city, which, as you say, has gone through so much trauma this past year.

AGBAJE: Yes, it's difficult. You know, we are coming, still, through a pandemic. We have - are dealing with the killing of George Floyd, which happened last May, as well as the ongoing trial of former officer Derek Chauvin. And then now, as of Sunday, we have another police officer killing a young man, Daunte Wright. So when you put that on top of each other without having the space and the ability to mourn, to grieve, to heal, it makes it very difficult to continue on as business as usual.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, the officer who shot Daunte Wright - her name is Kim Potter - she was arrested today, and she has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Do you think that that is the correct course of action here?

AGBAJE: I believe that that is actually the correct course of action. We need to begin to hold police officers accountable for when they kill Black men, when they kill Black people, when they kill people in general. This is not something that we can just easily wave away to say that it is a mistake. But we as the community members - and I imagine that the family as well - really wants to see some accountability. And this is a form of accountability that we have in our system. So I believe that this is correct.

CHANG: And do you agree with the charge second-degree manslaughter?

AGBAJE: I have not looked closely at what that charge actually entails, but I believe that if it is about what manslaughter normally means, then yes, that's probably the correct course of action.

CHANG: Well, what about the recent departures from people at the top? The city manager who used to oversee the Brooklyn Center Police Department was fired, and the police chief there, Tim Gannon - who called the shooting an accident - he resigned yesterday. Do you think their departures will help address some of the problems with policing there?

AGBAJE: I hope so. I mean, as a resident of Minneapolis, we have a very different system than the city of Brooklyn Center. And so I think, you know, Brooklyn Center will have to decide for itself what makes sense for its community. But overall, I believe that the more that we can do to ensure and show that community members, that we are taking action and that we are taking action that reflects the needs of the communities, that is something that all of us should do across the state of Minnesota.

CHANG: I want to turn now to the trial of Derek Chauvin. The entire country obviously is following this trial. Tell me, besides Chauvin's guilt or innocence, what do you think is at stake in this trial?

AGBAJE: This trial is not the end-all be-all of what justice actually means, so I want people to remember that this is a trial to hold this officer accountable for the murder that he committed. But at the end of the day, you know, for us, I think justice really means making sure that we are investing in our communities, that our people have what they need to live successful and thriving lives and that we are not cut down in the prime of our lives just because of an interaction with a police officer.

CHANG: That is Minnesota state Representative Esther Agbaje.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

AGBAJE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.