It's easy to see how emotions ran a bit high during the Kimberly Potter trial: the now all-too-familiar white officer/Black victim story, the endless coverage both locally and nationally in the media, the generally unspoken but all-too-real fear of what might happen in the streets if Potter was found anything less than thoroughly guilty.
But really, is the celebratory reaction on those streets and in the press something to be satisfied with?
The rejoicing of the crowds and the overly enthusiastic "THE WAR IS OVER!" size type of Friday's headline make it clear that there is little remembrance of this being an incredibly tragic event for the one convicted as well as the victim.
No one in anything I have come across has accused her of being anything worse than careless. Not some terrible racist. Not a coldblooded killer. Simply someone who in a moment of stress performed badly.
It would, perhaps, serve all of us well to remember how close we may have occasionally come to such a moment of carelessness — perhaps in distracted driving or the operation of machinery on the farm or in the workplace. Probably the most dangerous person of all is the one who thinks oneself immune to being human.
Harold W. Onstad, Plymouth
The local law enforcement community learned a valuable lesson this past week. They learned that the community not only doesn't like them, it expects them to be perfect, no matter what.
Former officer Potter was an officer with more than 25 years' service. An officer who never had a disciplinary action against her made a mistake, an involuntary action that killed a man. That was terrible, but it was also totally unintentional.
As a retired officer with 26 years' experience, I can say without a doubt in my mind Kim Potter just had one of those episodes that happens to all of us from time to time. Fortunately, it usually does not involve a person's life.
Officers, if you are smart, get out of there. Don't waste another minute of your valuable life. You are valued by your family and friends. Be with them, and find a job where you can make a mistake once in a while without going to prison.
Ed Janes, Eden Prairie
Potter's conviction is correct. Nobody deserves to die due to an "oops, sorry!" mistake. However, the judge should lend a broad perspective in Potter's sentencing. As a law enforcement officer of 26 years with an excellent record, including thousands of positive interactions with the public, Potter is not a rogue cop. Situations involving criminals, as in this case, involve great potential risk to law enforcement. Split-second decisionmaking is subject to human error. There are no winners here. Only a loser, Daunte Wright. But a spiteful, politically motivated long sentence is unfair.
Charles Corcoran, Stillwater
The persistent pit in my stomach tells me that we have made a terrible mistake. Potter was convicted on the basis of recklessness and negligence. As she endeavored to use nonlethal force to prevent the escalation of a chaotic situation from becoming deadly, she acted appropriately but under pressure made a tragic error, mistaking her gun for the Taser. With sympathy for the likely frame of mind of Wright as he was surrounded by white police officers, in truth the recklessness in the encounter was certainly his.
We have a long and terrible history in this country of police violence toward Black citizens. But convictions on one side or the other are not meant to be tallied on some gruesome ledger using present abuses to compensate for past ones. Knowingly or not, this trial was freighted with political overtones. Anyone watching the testimony clearly saw that Potter had seconds to analyze and act, and that the shooting was accidental. We had days and hours to carefully come to the right conclusion to see justice done. The negligence is ours.
John Barden, Prior Lake
An article in the Star Tribune pointed out that since George Floyd the number of people killed by police hasn't changed. What has changed, however, is that two police officers in Minnesota have been held accountable for their actions and very likely several more around the country will be as well. Minnesota has taken the lead in holding officers accountable for egregious actions against unarmed civilians. It's a start. Police need to refrain from lethal force unless there is direct threat to their lives or the lives of innocent bystanders. Police use of lethal force kills innocent bystanders as well, as we just saw in California, where a 14-year-old young woman was killed in a store dressing room by a wild shot fired by a police officer trying to kill a man. There is a better way to enforce the law.
Robert Veitch, Richfield
If you are ever in an encounter with law enforcement, follow their instructions.
Daunte Wright would be alive today if he had known and heeded this advice.
Richard Trickel, Crosslake, Minn.
The Star Tribune editorial on Dec. 24 fairly supports the jury function in the Potter trial ("Respect jury's decision to convict"). But the editorial also highlights a potential unfairness in the trial process when it recites the prosecutor's arguments that Potter "chose" to draw the weapon and "chose" to disregard her training. "Choice" conveys a thought process contrary to instinctive, spontaneous on-the-street situations that police too often confront when faced with a person wrongly resisting lawful police commands. To argue that Potter "chose" may unfairly simplify the issue of intent.
Too many of the policing cases involve arrestees who are resisting lawful police orders, sometimes with physical combat. We would not condone fighting with deputies in the jail, or with bailiffs and judges in the courtroom. Why do we seem to so readily gloss over arrestee resistance to police on the street? The spontaneous decisions that police must make on the street, in circumstances wrongly created by those choosing to resist, do not involve a "choice" in the same way that would be available to one who had abundant time to weigh options.
Clearly there are intelligent and knowledgeable legal authorities who have differing opinions about whether there should be criminal responsibility for Potter, and, if so, what charge(s) was appropriate. But we wouldn't even be having this discussion if Daunte Wright had been compliant. Whether Potter should be criminally responsible is not the issue I want to address here. But she should not be considered to have made a "choice" in the same way that word commonly implies. "Choice" commonly implies temporal opportunity to weigh and consider. Perhaps we need more statutory provisions describing what standards should be applied to evaluate officer conduct when confronted with persons resisting lawful commands. Maybe the current laws are sufficient. Maybe we need to educate the public that the place to address objections to police commands is not on the street. Too many of the cases we are seeing involve resistance to police commands. The results are often tragic for all concerned. But to characterize police conduct as involving a "choice" may often be unfair.
Thomas W. Wexler, Edina
The writer is a retired judge.
A life that blazed 'so fiercely'
The Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano once wrote:
"The world is a heap of people, a sea of tiny flames. ... Some people's flames are so still they don't even flicker in the wind, while others have wild flames that fill the air with sparks." Some "blaze with life so fiercely that you can't look at them without blinking and if you approach, you shine in fire."
Those words came to mind when I read about the death and the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Bill Herring, Minnetonka
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