The race issue was not brought up in the case of Kim Potter. A former Minneapolis police officer, she was convicted for manslaughter after she claimed she mistook her Taser for her handgun.
Wright’s family and activists claim that the murder of the Black motorist, aged 20, was always about race. From the moment officers pulled him over to the moment a judge sentenced Potter to a two year sentence. Family members denounced this as giving less consideration to the Black victim than to the defendant.
After Friday’s sentencing, Ben Crump, an attorney representing Wright’s family, stated that “What we see today” was the American legal system in Black and White.
Brooklyn Center officers pulled Wright over for expired license tags and an aerosol hanging from his rearview reflector. This violation, which civil rights activists claim is used to stop Black motorists , led to Wright’s death.
Officers found Wright was in possession of a warrant and tried to arrest him. But he refused. The video shows that Potter, a white woman, shouted repeatedly that she would use her Taser against Wright. However, she still had her gun and fired one shot into Wright’s chest.
Many believed the traffic stop was the result racial profiling. The shooting occurred in Minneapolis, where Derek Chauvin was being tried for murder in George Floyd’s death. This sparked several days worth of protests outside Brooklyn Center police station, marked by tear gas and clashes with police.
In December, a majority of white jurors found Potter guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter. Family members and activists cheered. They felt like justice had been thrown away this week when Judge Regina Chu sentenced Potter to two years. This was well below the seven-year presumptive sentence she faced under state guidelines.
Nekima Levy, activist and civil rights lawyer Nekima Armstrong said that the judge “overstepped her bounds” and undermined any legitimacy of the judicial process in this case. She stated that the sentence “again underlines why many Black people distrust the justice system at any level.”
Levy Armstrong stated that the sentence effectively reversed the jury’s decision not to hold Potter responsible and that Chu’s demeanor during the sentencing stoked distrust. This was because it showed how Black people in the justice system are seen primarily as victims rather than defendants.
She said, “The judge made Kimberly Potter appear like a victim.”
Chu described it as “one of the most saddest cases” that she has ever seen.
The judge stated that “on the one hand” a young man was shot to death and that “on the other hand” a 26-year-old veteran officer pulled her handgun instead.
Chu stated that “the evidence is undisputable” that Potter did not intend to use her firearm. This made the case less serious and more concerning than recent police officer killings. She tried to understand Potter’s feelings and asked others to do the same.
Ayesha Bell Haraway, an associate professor of law at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, stated that the kindness shown by Chu to Potter was extraordinary.
Hardaway stated that “if it’s not about racism, she certainly made it clear that she has a high regard to public service that police officers provide in our society.” As she delivered her sentence, Hardaway said that white people were held in higher regard by the judiciary system for a long time.
Hardaway also spoke the words of the judge — and the fact she became emotional while announcing her sentence — “from an professional standpoint, is something you wouldn’t want to see.”
Levy Armstrong stated that Chu displayed a lack empathy for the Wright family and encouraged others to follow in Potter’s footsteps. She said that Chu was “disingenuous, irresponsible and insensitive” for claiming the case was not as serious than other high-profile killings by police officers.
Johnathon McClellan is the president of Minnesota Justice Coalition. He called the sentence unfair especially when he considers the “many Black and brown people” who were sent to prison to be made an example of. He was particularly upset that Chu tried to invoke a quote by Barack Obama “as though that will help you and other people sleep better at night.”
Rachel Moran, a University of St. Thomas law professor, stated that she understands why Potter believes two years is appropriate. Potter is not at risk of reoffending and will spend 16 months in prison. The shooting was deemed an error.
Moran stated that the public is used seeing harsh prison sentences, and not a judge showing mercy.
Moran stated, “Where it becomes so difficult is that that mercy not often shown to many others is where it becomes so painful.” It’s hard to believe that two years is enough for someone who has killed someone, when they are in prison for drug offenses.
Moran stated that while the sentence may be correct, it could still feel unjust to those who are involved in the community and have experienced the trauma and pain of longer prison sentences for lesser offenses.
Family members and activists pointed out the case of Mohamed Noor in Minneapolis, where he was a Minneapolis officer when he fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk-Damond, a Somali American. Noor was sentenced on a lesser charge, second-degree manslaughter, to more time in prison than Potter.
Moran stated that the sentences were imposed by judges who had different opinions and that there could be reasons for each outcome. The conduct was identical, but the Black officer received a harsher sentence.
Delores Jones-Brown is a professor at Howard University in Washington, and Randolph-Macon College Ashland, Virginia. She said that the judge accepted Potter’s claim of shooting Wright as a mistake.
Jones-Brown stated, “There’s something to being a 26 year veteran and shooting a young male in the chest using your firearm and claiming you were using your Taser. That doesn’t quite sit with me.”
She stated that she was disturbed by Potter’s narrative being accepted by the media as the truth. “Clearly that narrative is what ruled the day during the sentencing.”