MINEAPOLIS – The issue of race was hardly touched upon during the trial Kim Potterformer Minneapolis suburban police officer convicted of manslaughter Down Wright after she said she had confused the gun with the taser.
But Wright’s family members and many activists say the killing of the 20-year-old Black Motorist has always been linked to the race, from the time officers decided to detain him, to the moment a judge sentenced Potter to two years in prisonthat family members complained about being more considerate of the white accused than of the black victim.
“Today we see the legal system in America black and white,” said Ben Crump, a lawyer for the Wright family, after the sentencing on Friday.
Wright was killed on April 11 after Brooklyn Center staff stopped him for having his license expired and an air freshener hanging from a rear-view mirror, violations that civil rights activists say are used as reason to stop black motorists.
Officers found that Wright had a warrant on charges of possession of a weapon, and they tried to arrest him, but he was distracted. The video shows White Potter repeatedly shouting that he was using his stun gun on Wright, but she held a gun in her hand and shot him in the chest.
Many believed that the cessation of movement was the result of racial profiling and should not have occurred. A shooting that happened like Derek Shaven was tried in Minneapolis on a murder charge George Floyd’s assassination sparked days of demonstrations near a Brooklyn police station marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.
Family members and activists applauded in December, when mostly white juries Potter was convicted of both manslaughter and manslaughter. This week, they felt as if justice had been ripped off when Judge Regina Chu gave Potter two years, well below the expected sentence of just over seven years she was sentenced to under state direction.
“The judge went beyond and undermined any legitimacy of the trial in this case,” said Nekim Levi Armstrong, a lawyer and civil rights activist. She said the sentence “re-emphasizes why many black people do not trust the justice system at all levels.”
Levi Armstrong said the verdict essentially overturned the jury’s decision to hold Potter responsible and that Chu’s conduct and comments during sentencing caused distrust and showed how black people are treated in the justice system primarily as defendants rather than victims.
“The judge made Kimberly Potter look like a victim,” she said.
Chu called it “one of the saddest cases” she has seen.
“On the one hand,” the judge said, “a young man was killed, and on the other, a respected 26-year-old police veteran made the tragic mistake of pulling out a gun instead of a taser.”
Chu said the “evidence is indisputable” that Potter was not going to use his firearms, which made the case less serious than other recent police killings. She asked those who disagreed to try to empathize with Potter, and seemed to choke and wipe away tears when she said Potter did not want to offend anyone.
Aisha Bell Hardway, an associate professor of law and co-director of the Institute for Social Justice at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the level of kindness that Chu showed to Potter was excellent.
“When it comes to non-race, she certainly said she has a lot of respect for the public service provided by the police in our society,” Hardway said. She said white people have long enjoyed the highest respect in the judiciary, and “we saw these realities happen when a judge handed down a sentence.”
Hardway also said the judge’s words – and that she was moved when the verdict was announced – “from a professional point of view it’s something you wouldn’t want to see.”
Levi Armstrong said Chu showed a lack of empathy for the Wright family, especially when encouraging listeners to go in Potter’s place. And she said one of the main reasons Chu went below government recommendations – saying the case was not as serious as some other high-profile police killings because it was a mistake – was “insincerity and irresponsibility, not to mention it’s about heartlessness. “
Jonathan McClellan, president of the Minnesota Coalition of Justice, called the verdict unfair, especially compared to what he said were “many black, brown and poor people” being sent to prison to set an example. He was particularly annoyed that Chu asked for condolences, citing a quote from Barack Obama, “as if it would make you and others sleep better at night.”
Rachel Moran, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas, said she could understand why the judge thought the two years were appropriate; Potter is not at risk of re-offending, she will serve about 16 months in prison, and the shooting was found to be a mistake.
But Moran said the public is used to seeing high prison terms and is not used to a judge showing mercy.
“It gets so painful that this mercy is not often shown to many other people,” Moran said. When you think of people who get more time in jail for drug crimes, “it’s really hard to swallow two years ago who killed someone.”
“I think the sentence may be right and it may still feel horribly unfair to people who are active in society and have seen the pain and trauma of higher prison sentences” for crimes that have done less harm, Moran said.
Family members and activists have pointed to the case of Mohamed Noor, a Somali American who was a Minneapolis police officer when he killed a white woman Justin Rushchik Demond in 2017. Noor was sentenced to prison more than Potter, on lesser charges of second-degree murder.
Moran said the verdicts were handed down by different judges who thought differently and both results could be justified. But the behavior was similar, and in fact the black officer received a harsher sentence.
Delores Jones-Brown, who teaches at Howard University in Washington and Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, said the judge clearly accepted Potter’s assertion that the shooting at Wright was a mistake.
“There’s something about being a 26-year veteran and shooting a young man in the chest with your firearm and claiming that you thought you were using your stun gun, which I don’t really like,” Jones-Brown said.
She said she was concerned that the media accepted Potter’s story as an accurate version of what happened, “and it is clear that this story is the one that ruled the day in the sentencing.”
Find full coverage of Downt Wright’s case in the AP: /hub/death-of-daunte-wright
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