Am I the only one who feels sorrier for Kim Potter, a 26-year police force veteran, than for Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old man whom she fatally shot?
Don’t get me wrong, the phrase “a fate worse than death” is often used figuratively, but there are literally a scant few fates worse than losing one’s life. Nonetheless, Potter’s may be one of them: for the rest of her life she’ll have to live with the fact that due to her apparent miscalculation – she says she meant to use a taser on Wright but mistakenly shot him with a gun – cost a young man his life, brought horrific grief upon his loved ones and prompted more senseless violence in Brooklyn Center, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis, the site of George Floyd’s death while in police custody less than a year ago. Potter was placed on administrative leave but almost immediately resigned from the force. What brought national attention to this case is, you guessed it, Potter is white and Wright was black, as was Floyd, his killer a white cop too.
To recount the events, on April 11 Potter was field training two other officers when they noticed something hanging from Wright’s rear view mirror. In Minnesota, it’s against the law to hang anything from the rear view mirror: not a tree-shaped air freshener, no fuzzy dice, not even a Palm Sunday cross. Nothing. It can get you pulled over just as easily as if you were driving with a busted headlight.
They stopped Wright’s car and asked for his paperwork. According to Wright’s mother, Katie, her son called her because he needed her to provide insurance information. Meanwhile, the officers ran a check on Wright’s plates and discovered that he had outstanding arrest warrants. Some media outlets report that the warrants were for felonies, others say for misdemeanors, but the warrants indisputably existed. In her horror, Wright’s mother then heard a struggle between her son and the police, and later the alarming news from Wright’s girlfriend, who was also in the car, that Wright had been shot.
While one officer attempted to handcuff him, Wright wriggled free and tried to escape. Potter then yelled “I’ll tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” but fired a single shot with her gun, not her taser, into Wright’s chest.
Those who ask: “how in the world can she mistake a gun for a taser?” obviously don’t realize that she didn’t have the luxury of calmly pulling a weapon from her holster and gazing at it for several seconds, as one might with a text message, before firing. Law enforcement officers are often forced to make split-second, life-and-death decisions – talk about high pressure. Both the taser and the gun essentially feel the same, especially when you have a nanosecond to reach for them.
Although Wright’s fatal shooting is a tragedy for so many involved, the gun/taser confusion reminds me of a funny story that makes for an apt analogy: during my college days, I worked for a retail electronics chain, and one evening I was sitting next to the store manager as he prepared to sign the daily sales report. He held a pen between two fingers just as the phone rang, and he picked it up. While he was on the call, I decided to play a little joke on him: I switched the pen from his hand (he wasn’t looking) with a lipstick tube that someone had left on the desk. I couldn’t wait for him to sign the report with the lipstick! The thought was so amusing to me at the time that I couldn’t contain my laughter. He hung up and saw me laughing out loud hysterically, and looked down at his hand and discovered the lipstick there instead of the pen. Then, he too started to laugh. Oh how I wish I could’ve kept a straight face, because surely he would have brought lipstick to paper and signed it that way.
The point is that if a person who is distracted in calm situations can mistake a pen for a tube of lipstick, then how is it not reasonable for someone to make a similar mistake between a gun and a taser in a frenetic-paced deadly situation?
This is not Floyd, whom we all watched on video die on a public street while police officer Derek Chauvin relentlessly kept his knee pressed on Floyd’s neck, even as the latter was unconscious. I’m not one to rush to judgment, but I really can’t see any justification for what Chauvin did, particularly for as long as he did.
In addition to Potter’s resignation, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon also quit. Why? How is a city struggling to maintain law and order helped by the sudden resignation of its leader? Do people really think Gannon instructs Potter and his other underlings: “if a black suspect struggles with you, just shoot him, and if he dies, oh well”?
There’s one important thing in common between the Floyd and Wright cases, and race isn’t it. Rather, it’s that both men resisted arrest. Maybe the outrage should be directed at the fact that far too many people not only have the audacity to commit crimes, but won’t even sit still when they’re being arrested. If Floyd and Wright had cut their losses and succumbed to the police, they’d both be alive today.
There are almost 400 million cameras on cell phones circulating throughout America. These routinely capture countless incidents of vicious and often fatal beatings, armed robbery, sexual assault, and other atrocities. Yet people rarely step in to do anything about it. It takes a special kind of person to risk life and limb to do so, called a police officer. It’s time we stop expecting perfection from our men and women in blue and instead give them the same respect for protecting us here at home that we give to our troops for protecting us overseas.
Don’t blame yourself, Officer Potter, the suspect should’ve stayed put.