Mike Elliott is among many who celebrated his election as mayor of Brooklyn Center as the beginning of a new era, marking the first time one of Minnesota’s most racially diverse places would be led by a person of color.
A little more than two years later, Elliott, a Black man who had emigrated from Liberia as a child, is finding out just how difficult it is to turn the page on the nation’s racial history. The shooting of Wright has set off protests, political upheaval and painful reckoning about racism and representation in his small city. The debate echoes one that engulfed neighboring Minneapolis and many larger communities last year after the death of George Floyd. But in Brooklyn Center, it is playing out in a place where some believed they’d made progress — only to be thrust to the front lines of the fight.
“It’s been very difficult for myself, for the community, to deal with the pain and the agony that comes from watching a young man be killed before our eyes,” Elliott, 37, told reporters Tuesday.
Since the Sunday shooting, the mayor has become the face of this community’s struggle. Elliott has promised transparency and vowed accountability for Wright’s death. He’s calmly fielded scores of questions from activists pressing for answers and plans. He’s expressed empathy for the protesters who’ve clashed with police, and ventured out in the nighttime protest in protective gear to appeal for peace: “I could feel their pain. I could feel their anger. I could feel their fear,” he said of this encounter.
Under pressure to swiftly fire the officer involved, Kim Potter, Elliott and the city council voted to fire the city manager, and give control of the police department to the mayor. On Tuesday, Potter and the police chief resigned. Elliot made clear the city already had been moving toward firing Potter. He said he hoped her departure would “bring some calm to the community.”
But the mayor also has acknowledged systemic sources of the distrust between residents and police in his city. Of the roughly 50 sworn officers on the city’s force, “very few” are people of color and none live in Brooklyn Center, he said, acknowledging he saw the latter as a clear problem.
“There is a huge importance to having a significant number of your officers living in the community where they serve,” he said.