Daunte Wright's family thought they would be celebrating his 21st birthday by raising a glass with him, not by releasing red and white balloons into the sky.

Wright was fatally shot by a police officer in April during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center. Dozens of family, friends and activists gathered at the Brooklyn Center Community Center to celebrate what would have been his 21st birthday on Wednesday.

Those in attendance included family members of both Jamar Clark, another young man killed by police, and Emmett Till, lynched in the 1950s, according to Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, during a news conference.

Friends, family members and well-wishers also posed with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Wright. A golden sash with the words "Finally 21" was placed over it.

"He would be out enjoying the day and trying to do what every other 21-year-old wants to do," said his aunt Naisha Wright, adding there will be a void this holiday season with his absence. "He loved Halloween, Christmas and the Fourth of July."

While his family continues to grieve, they wanted to celebrate what would have been a milestone in Wright's life, Garraway said.

"We are still demanding justice for Daunte," she said. "But we want today to be an uplifting day for Daunte's family."

The evening included dinner and music, with many attendees wearing shirts printed with his photo and "Justice for Daunte Wright."

"We're celebrating memories and happy times, when we should actually be celebrating him here with us," said his mother, Katie Wright. "Unfortunately, Brooklyn Center police failed us and that's why we're here today celebrating his memories."

Police said Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, mistook her gun for her Taser when she shot Wright as he attempted to get back into his vehicle during an arrest. The shooting led to days of protests during the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering George Floyd.

Potter, who is free on $100,000 bond, is charged with one count each of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. The higher count was added in early September. Her trial is set to begin Nov. 30.

Johnathon McClellan, president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, said the community needs to keep up the pressure to make sure there's justice for Wright.

"The best birthday present the Minnesota Justice Coalition can give Daunte Wright is a system change and that we fight for reforms that remove the barriers that protect killer cops," he said. "We must not allow another family to go through what Daunte's did. This problem should have been taken care of long ago but it falls on us to fix our future."

Alex Chhith • 612-673-4759