MINNEAPOLIS -- The issue of race was barely brought up during the trial of Kim Potter, a former suburban Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of manslaughter for killing Daunte Wright after she said she confused her handgun for her Taser.
But Wright’s family members and many activists say the killing of the 20-year-old Black motorist has always been about race, from the moment officers decided to pull him over, to the moment a judge gave Potter a two-year sentence, which family members decried as giving more consideration to the white defendant than the Black victim.
“What we see today is the legal system in America in Black and white,” Ben Crump, an attorney for Wright’s family, said after Friday’s sentencing.
Wright was killed on April 11 after Brooklyn Center officers pulled him over for having expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, violations that civil rights activists say are used as a pretext to stop Black motorists.
Officers discovered Wright had a warrant for a weapons possession charge and they tried to arrest him but he pulled away. Video shows Potter, who is white, shouted several times that she would use her Taser on Wright, but she had her gun in her hand and fired once into his chest.
Many felt the traffic stop was the result of racial profiling and shouldn’t have happened. The shooting, which occurred as Derek Chauvin was on trial in Minneapolis on murder charges in George Floyd’s killing, sparked several days of demonstrations outside the Brooklyn Center police station marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.
Family members and activists applauded in December when a mostly white jury convicted Potter of both first- and second-degree manslaughter. This week, they felt as if justice was yanked away when Judge Regina Chu gave Potter two years, well below the presumptive sentence of just over seven years she had faced under state guidelines.
“The judge overstepped her bounds and undermined any legitimacy from the judicial process that happened in this case,” said Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and activist. She said the sentence "again underscores why many Black people have a distrust of the justice system at all levels.”
Levy Armstrong said the sentence essentially rolled back the jury’s decision to find Potter accountable and that Chu’s demeanor and comments during the sentencing stoked distrust and showed how Black people are viewed in the justice system primarily as defendants rather than victims.
“The judge made Kimberly Potter look like the victim,” she said.
Chu called it “one of the saddest cases” she’s seen.
“On the one hand," the judge said, "a young man was killed and on the other, a respected 26-year veteran police officer made a tragic error by pulling her handgun inst...