“You can’t remove race from this,” said anti-police violence activist Toussaint Morrison of the Kimberly Potter trial. “It seemingly tips it in the favor of the defense.” Only one Black juror, a mother and teacher, was chosen for the jury panel that will decide the fate of former Brooklyn Center police officer Potter, who shot and killed Daunte Wright on April 11 of this year.
Potter told authorities that she meant to shoot Wright with her taser and not her service revolver. She is on trial for first-degree and second-degree manslaughter.
“In less than two minutes her chief was able to put out propaganda that said she didn’t know her left from her right,” said Morrison while shaking his head. “She had been on the force longer than Daunte had been alive. It comes off as intentional, or at the least it’s definitely manslaughter.”
Opening statements in the trial are set for Wednesday, Dec. 8. The trial marks the second time in a year that all eyes will be on the Twin Cities as the U.S. justice system and the system of policing are again in the spotlight. And again there is palpable pessimism on the part of many in the community.
“I am going to hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” said Amity Dimock, whose son Kobe Dimock-Heisler was killed on August 31, 2019, by Brooklyn Center police. According to Dimmock, former officer Potter was the first ranking officer on the scene, and she told the officers to turn off their body cameras, for which she was later reprimanded.
“I never have confidence in the system,” said Dimock. “I have concerns about the demographic of the jury, and it’s not close to Brooklyn Center’s demographic.” Recent data shows Blacks or African Americans make up 29% of the city’s population.
“I’m kind of afraid there are some jurors who believe police can do no wrong,” Dimock said. “I am afraid that some people have not revealed their hand so they could get on the jury.”
Jury selection for the trial went rather quickly and was uneventful as the 12 jurors and two alternates were chosen over a four-day period.
Controversial jury selection
However, two jurors who were not selected stirred up a bit of controversy.
An Asian woman who said she was a first-year law student, admitted to having attended a racial justice protest, came off as level-headed and socially in tune was rejected outright by the defense, which used what is called a peremptory strike to eliminate her from the jury.
When the prosecution raised a Batson challenge, which is a motion that allows counsel to challenge the other side for eliminating a potential juror solely on the basis of race, the challenge was rejected by Judge Regina Chu, who is Asian as well.
Judge Chu responded, “There are already two Asians on the jury.” The curious statement left one to wonder if it would be possible to have too many Whites on the jury.
Jury selection also revealed information by a juror (no. 52) which may have indicated former officer Potter’s views on race. According to the potential juror, a White woman, someone driving her friend’s car while the friend was in the back seat committed a hit-and-run accident.
She said that detective Potter came to her friend’s apartment and instead of interrogating her about the accident “she started interrogating her about her boyfriend, who is Black.”
The potential juror said the boyfriend was not present in the apartment but was at work at the time. She said Potter asked, “Why would you be with a guy like that? He’s a bad influence for you.” She described her friend as being mixed but said her hair is blonde and “she is White.”
When Judge Chu asked the potential juror if she made the remarks because Potter thought he was a bad influence, or because he was Black, juror 52 answered, “Because he was Black and because he would be a bad influence to her.”
The juror did not witness any of this firsthand but assured the judge that her friend “would not lie about this.”
Gray for the defense
Defense attorney Earl Gray was criticized and seen by many in the Black community as persona non grata when he went on the record denigrating Philando Castile, even after he had collected his check for getting former St. Anthony policeman Geronimo Yanez off on manslaughter charges.
Immediately after the verdict, Gray chastised Ramsey County Attorney John Choi for “kowtowing” to public pressure and filing charges against Yanez in the first place. In an ill-timed and ill-conceived interview with Ruben Rosario soon after the verdict, Gray went on record saying, “I think he [Yanez] did the right thing… This guy, in my mind, should never have been charged.”
Gray also implied in the interview that Yanez was justified in killing Castile because “He did not say he had a permit.” When Rosario asked, “How many people who are about to shoot you are going to tell you they have a gun?” Gray answered, “Some would.”
Gray also appeared to slander the dead man by continuing to maintain that Castile was high, although that was never conclusively proven. In none of his statements after the verdict did he acknowledge the tragedy of the situation or express sympathy for Castile’s family.
Activists sound off
“The only reason there will be some level of accountability is because people put pressure on them through protests,” said Toshira Garraway, who heads the group Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence. “Had that pressure not been applied, there would likely have been no trial. And without the video we would not be here as well.”
Dimock added, “The defense that it was a mistake does not fly. It might fly if she had been like the officer in my case who had been on the job for only three months. They make [the taser] bright yellow and lightweight, and they put it on one side of the body for a reason. It’s not an acceptable error.”
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