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What The Suburban Brooklyn Center Actually Looks Like

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Brooklyn Center is a new place to most Americans. It's the scene of the latest high-profile police killing of a Black man - Daunte Wright. An officer shot him during a traffic stop on Sunday in what the police chief called an accident. The resulting protests have ramped up tensions in the entire Twin Cities region, which is also watching the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. NPR's Martin Kaste has this profile of a quiet suburb experiencing big-city turmoil.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Brooklyn Center is in many ways a typical Twin Cities inner-ring suburb - just 30,000 residents, a grid of modest houses and blocky apartment buildings. It's a leafy place between freeways, where the drone of rush-hour traffic is never that far away.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALARM BEEPING)

KASTE: Though this morning, you would have heard the burglar alarms in the stores that were trashed during a night of sometimes violent protests outside the nearby police department.

PATRICIA HARDIN: I just don't understand why. Why? This is where we live. This is where we come to shop at.

KASTE: Patricia Hardin is taking a video of the broken-out windows of the Dollar Tree store, looted and tagged with Black Lives Matter slogans. She's angry about the killing of Daunte Wright. She scoffs at the idea that it was an accident.

HARDIN: It's sad that the police keep killing Black people. That's very sad, but what is this solving?

KASTE: Hardin is Black, as is about 30% of this suburb. She says it's been a great place to live, at least it seemed so last summer, when the looting was mostly happening seven miles down the highway in Minneapolis. Now that it's come here, she says it's scary.

One mile away, the scene is very different. Diane Sannes and her husband, who are white, have a backyard that overlooks the Mississippi River.

DIANE SANNES: You got the turkeys coming over here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This is wildlife central.

KASTE: They regularly see deer, beaver and right now, huge wild turkeys strutting around like they own the place.

SANNES: Oh, we have, like, 12 in the backyard. It's mating season, so they're - always got their plumes up.

KASTE: Sannes has lived in this community her whole life and volunteers so much that she has a business card that reads community advocate. She can tell you all about the local history.

SANNES: We've always been a community of immigrants. You know, back in the 1860s, 1870s, it was - there were many farmers from all over the European continent. And the last 50 years, of course, we've become much more diverse and certainly in the last 20 years, even more diverse.

KASTE: In fact, Brooklyn Center is now called the most diverse city in Minnesota. But Sannes says it's always been hard to knit that diversity into a community because of the geographical realities of being a small suburb divided by highways and split between school districts. And that concern is echoed by Samantha Vang, standing outside her corner-lot house with a big flag on the porch.

SAMANTHA VANG: When you look at my block - right? - you know, I know in this - my block neighborhood, there's a, you know, immigrant neighbor, I have a, you know, a white neighbor. A Black neighbor is right there.

KASTE: Vang is of Hmong descent. She's also the state representative for this district. Minority groups here have definitely achieved political representation. The mayor, for instance, is part of the big Liberian community. But Vang says these groups seem to live inside separate bubbles, again, because the Brooklyn Center seems to lack a center.

VANG: People go out to work, and they come home to relax and go to bed. And then that's basically it. There's really no shared community space to really mingle and interact with one another.

KASTE: At the same time, Vang says community ties seem to be developing in the aftermath of this shooting. She says people are encountering each other in the protests over the killing of Daunte Wright, as well as in the upset over the damage to local businesses. Another resident and one-time candidate for city council, Alfreda Daniels, says this crisis may have jump-started engagement in local government. She's part of the Liberian community and spoke briefly by phone on her way to a meeting with the mayor this morning.

ALFREDA DANIELS: I think this is going to lead - I hope this is going to lead to, like, more intentional systematic change.

KASTE: She hopes Brooklyn Center will now try to figure out why the police here have killed six people in nine years. She wants their training reevaluated, along with the fact that officers usually live outside the city. And the mayor and the city council have signaled their willingness to make changes, starting with the departure of the police chief earlier today.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Brooklyn Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAIRO'S "ALEWIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.