Many are calling last week’s Kimberly Potter guilty verdict for the killing of Daunte Wright a possible sea change in police officers being charged for killing Black people.
“This verdict can’t bring Daunte back, but it creates a path toward accountability and an opportunity to prevent further tragedies,” said Color of Change Senior Director Scott Roberts in a released statement after Potter was found guilty of two manslaughter counts on Dec. 23.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said in a statement, “We must not be content with accountability after a tragedy. We must all fully commit ourselves to creating a city where everyone can thrive, safe from police violence.”
“Our criminal and legal systems are long overdue for a transformation to root out the inherent racism that has long plagued our country,” added Southern Poverty Law Center President and CEO Margaret Huang. “We challenge lawmakers at both the federal and state levels to hold officers accountable for police violence.”
Potter is the first female police officer in Minnesota to be found guilty of killing a Black person. She stopped 20-year-old Wright on April 11 for having an air freshener hanging from his car’s rearview mirror and having expired license tabs.
After learning that he had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant and being told he was under arrest, Wright tried to get away and Potter reportedly used her taser in her attempt to subdue him with her taser but instead shot and killed him with her gun.
She was later charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter.
When sentenced early next year, Potter is expected to serve a minimum of seven years in prison.
However, American University Law Professor Angi Porter last week told the MSR that the Potter guilty verdict be viewed carefully. “We now have some precedent that we can point to police officers being held accountable,” she observed.
“At the same time, we have to remain vigilant, and we have to remain awake and alert because as we know with racism, with bias, with these racial dynamics, [police officers] are going to get smarter about how not to be held accountable” in shooting Blacks, she suggested.
“We just have to stay one step ahead as we try to build a better future for our people and for all people in this place,” continued Porter, a former local prosecutor who also provided post-trial analysis for the MSR after the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict earlier this year.
After Potter’s emotional testimony on the stand, many legal experts predicted that it might be enough to convince the 12-person jury to acquit her, but not Porter, who noted that the former officer would indeed be convicted.
“Sometimes it can feel a little tricky trying to predict something like that,” Porter stressed. But she felt the jury would come back with at least one guilty charge.
The jurors—nine Whites, two Asians, and one Black, deliberated for 28 hours. Porter said what also convinced her that a guilty conviction was forthcoming when the group asked Judge Regina Chu if they could see Potter’s gun—the prosecution argued that the officer was reckless, challenging the defense argument that it was just a bad mistake when she pulled her gun instead of her taser.
“The jury wanted to hold that gun and compare so they could firsthand feel it,” said the law professor.
Porter said that there were mistakes made by both sides throughout the trial: Prosecutor Erin Eldridge “had a technical trip up” and felt her questioning of Potter could have been stronger. “Eldridge did brilliantly on [her] opening [and] closing. [But] there was this proportionate amount of focus on policies.”
On the other side, Porter saw that Potter’s defense attorneys seemingly counted heavily on their client’s “emotional outburst” during her testimony as well as the race factor—Potter is White, and Wright was Black.
“Race is always a factor,” stated Porter, who teaches law with an Afrocentric focus. “The American legal system is not equipped to address racism in these trials,” adding that the prosecutors “were up against the power of White womanhood in this trial.”
Porter also offered a quick analysis of Chu: “This is a consummate judge. Her demeanor was always steady. Because she’s a person of color, she didn’t have those overt racial biases.”
Finally, the Potter verdict doesn’t change the fact that Wright died. “The fact of the matter is Daunte Wright is no longer among us. [But] at least we have a measure of accountability here,” concluded Porter.