Last Sunday on April 11, a 20-year-old black motorist named Daunte Wright was shot by Kim Potter, a white Brooklyn Center (MN) police officer during a traffic stop. Unfortunately, attempts to save Mr. Wright were not successful; he was pronounced dead at the scene. Daunte Wright did not deserve to die. But were the happenings of last Sunday a tragic accident, or something more sinister?
Officer Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the police force, was conducting field training of a rookie officer when they pulled over Daunte Wright for expired registration tags. After checking Wright’s identification, officers determined that he had an outstanding warrant for possession of an unlicensed handgun and resisting arrest. They proceeded to take Mr. Wright into custody. Initially he complied; then attempted to flee.
Body camera footage released promptly after the shooting show Mr. Wright being apprehended outside the driver’s side of his vehicle. He then attempted to get back into his car and a struggle ensued. Officer Potter then threatened to deploy her Taser to subdue Mr. Wright. "I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” Officer Potter warned. Next thing we hear is, "Holy shit, I just shot him."
Officer Kim Potter inexplicably mistook her Taser for her pistol. It cost Daunte Wright his life.
Taser v Handgun
Even a layperson would find it difficult to confuse a Taser with a pistol. How could this happen? How could a 26-year veteran of a police force put in charge of training rookie officers confuse a Taser for a handgun? Has this ever happened before? These are legitimate questions that have been on the minds of many, including us.
According to retired police captain and use of force researcher Greg Meyer, “There have been 18 (documented) police shootings in the past 20 years in which officers used a gun when they said they intended to use a Taser.”
Most civilian interactions with law enforcement officials do not escalate to the point where a handgun or taser is deployed. However, given there are ~700,000 law enforcement officers in America that arrest ~10,000,000 civilians per year, Meyer’s figures seem credible.
Meyer goes on to explain that in the rare instance when an officer claims to have confused his or her Taser for a gun, one of the first things investigators look for is how many rounds that officer fired. If only one round was discharged, odds are the officer’s claims are genuine, and vice versa. There are two reasons for this: 1) Officers are trained to fire multiple rounds and 2) a Taser can only “fire” once. (Kim Potter fired once).
After the shooting, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott fired City Manager Curt Boganey. At a press conference earlier in the week, Mr. Boganey said that all city employees – including Kim Potter - are entitled to “due process with respect to discipline.” We agree with Mr. Boganey and believe his termination was unwarranted. In fact, every citizen regardless of the nature of their crime has a right to due process. That much is enshrined in our constitution.
At that same press briefing, a few irresponsible journalists made a point that Daunte Wright was not afforded due process. That is true. Ms. Potter committed a reckless act which prevented Mr. Wright from exercising his constitutional right to due process, and more importantly cost him his life. For that, she rightfully lost her job, was charged with a serious crime and is currently in jail.
For anybody - but especially a journalist - to insinuate that a perpetrator of a crime should be denied due process because their victim cannot obtain theirs, is unconscionable and dangerous.
At TQC we support peaceful protests against unlawful police conduct. We encourage people to exercise their constitutional right to organize, speak up, fight for justice, and to initiate discussions with the objective of facilitating positive change.
As to be expected, in Brooklyn Center, Portland, and elsewhere large numbers of protestors gathered to voice their anger over the happenings on April 11. Most protests were peaceful; unfortunately, a few were not. Businesses were looted, buildings were vandalized, bricks and water bottles were thrown at law enforcement officers.
At TQC, we reject criminals that have hijacked the tragic shooting of Daunte Wright as an excuse to attack police officers, loot businesses, deface property, commit other crimes, and dilute the influence of peaceful protestors. For the individuals participating in these activities, it is not about Daunte Wright or any other victim of unlawful policing or institutionalized racism, it is about nobody but themselves.
We have become accustomed to this ritual: Every time a person of color is unjustly harmed at the hands of law enforcement, a fringe of “progressive” politicians are quick to condemn the act – which we all should – but fail to address the issues that plague predominantly black communities across America. These politicians have answers for everything, solutions to very little, promise their constituents bread, leave them crumbs, take most of the loaf themselves, and then call for “defunding the police” while being protected in gated communities by police they claim they want to see defunded. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Calls to “defund the police” are nonsensical. The overwhelming majority of citizens - white and black – do not want the police to be defunded. House Majority Whip and former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, James Clyburn (D:SC) is a staunch liberal. Said Clyburn in a recent interview, 'Defund the police' is killing our party, and we've got to stop it.”
The data is indisputable, and the fact is undeniable, police bias exists in America. Unfortunately, because most people respond to emotional pleas and/or personal experience, not statistics, disingenuous individuals on both sides of the political divide have become astute at cherry picking data from larger data sets to buttress their own agenda. Perhaps no facts and figures have been sifted through more than those generated by the meticulous research of Harvard economics professor, Roland Fryer Jr. Said Doctor Fryer in the Wall St. Journal over the summer, “…I set out on a mission to quantify racial differences in police use of force. To my dismay, this work has been widely misrepresented and misused by people on both sides of the ideological aisle.”
Approximately 1,000 civilians are shot and killed by police each year. And each year, ~100 police officers are shot and killed in the line of duty. Though the data is patchy, most studies indicate that while people of all races experience mistreatment by the police, a black person is ~2.5x as likely to be killed by a police officer than a white person. Compounded by the fact that blacks represent only ~12% of the population, it appears there is a clear bias. And according to the work of Dr. Fryer, not surprisingly there is indeed bias. But surprisingly, this was not the case when it came to shootings.
According to Dr. Fryer: “We didn’t find racial differences in officer-involved shootings…(but)…There are large racial differences in police use of nonlethal force. My research team analyzed nearly five million police encounters from New York City. We found that when police reported the incidents, they were 53% more likely to use physical force on a black civilian than a white one…We controlled for every variable available in myriad ways. That reduced the racial disparities by 66%, but blacks were still significantly more likely to endure police force…Compliance by civilians doesn’t eliminate racial differences in police use of force. Black civilians who were recorded as compliant by police were 21% more likely to suffer police aggression than compliant whites. We also found that the benefits of compliance differed significantly by race. This was perhaps our most upsetting result, for two reasons: The inequity in spite of compliance clashed with the notion that the difference in police treatment of blacks and whites was a rational response to danger. And it complicates what we tell our kids: Compliance does make you less likely to endure a beat-down—but the benefit is larger if you are white.”
Regrettably, lethal force can be an officer’s only viable option. In the case of Daunte Wright – and too many others – it should not have been an option at all.
Two days following the shooting, Officer Potter resigned (before she was terminated). (Brooklyn Center Chief of Police Tim Gannon also turned in his badge). Potter was subsequently taken into custody and charged with manslaughter. She is currently being held in jail on $100,000 bail.
Some people want to see the charges against Ms. Potter upgraded from manslaughter to murder. However, a prosecutor must levy a charge they believe is not only appropriate but also winnable to extract justice for the victim. Said Lori Swanson, the former AG of Minnesota, “At the end of the day, the prosecutor needs to pick crimes to charge that they think he can win at trial…If you pick charges that don’t fit the facts of the case, the danger down the road is that you won’t be able to prove the elements of the case.”
At TQC, we believe officer Potter should be held accountable and charged in Daunte Wright’s death. Manslaughter is the correct charge. Ms. Potter was beyond reckless when she mistook her taser for a handgun. Did she set out that day to kill Mr. Wright? We do not think so. Must she be held accountable for killing Mr. Wright? Absolutely.