America will never fail to remind us that it’s still America.
Black people and others who are dedicated to justice and equal protection under the law for all citizens may have experienced a bit of catharsis when Derek Chauvin was sentenced to more than two decades in prison for the murder of George Floyd, or when Gregory and Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan all received life sentences for the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. But Black people know those cases are outliers in our justice system, not the norm.
When former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Daunte Wright, she was facing up to 25 years in prison and as much as $50,000 in fines. Now, Potter was never going to get anywhere near that much time. Even the prosecutors were only asking for an 86-month sentence, despite the belief of any worth-a-sh** anti-police brutality advocate that just over seven years isn’t justice for someone who took the life of a man just out of his teens without sufficient reason.
But this is America, and in this America, Kim Potter will only spend two years in prison.
I’m sorry, scratch that—according to NBC News, Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu ruled that Potter will only spend two-thirds of her two-year sentence behind bars and the rest on supervised release. She’ll also receive credit for the 58 days she’s already been locked up for and will only pay a $1K fine.
“I recognize there will be those who disagree with the sentence, that I granted is a significant downward departure, does not in any way diminish Daunte Wright’s life,” Chu said in her ruling.
But yes—yes it does “diminish Daunte Wright’s life.” It diminishes it all the way down to fewer than two years and a $1k fine. All that sentence does is make it crystal-clear whose life mattered more between Wright and Potter. But we shouldn’t feel that way because while handing Potter a sentence more appropriate for a petty burglar than a killer cop, Chu lamented the case as “one of the saddest cases that I’ve had in my 20 years on the bench.” And Potter’s defense attorney, Paul Engh, called the case “beyond tragic for everyone involved.”
There’s a clear degree of privilege that accompanies the statement “tragic for everyone involved” in cases like these—because it ignores how unequal the tragedy is for all the people involved. Even if you buy Potter’s act of trauma, remorse, and white teras—which was curiously absent when she was smiling big for her mugshot like it was a yearbook photo—her actions will end in her spending less than two years behind bars while Daunte is dead forever and his family is left to mourn him long after the entire ordeal is a distant memory for his killer.
Potter killed Wright for the same reason cops virtually always kill Black suspects who aren’t presently endangering their lives—cops are generally more fearful and aggressive when dealing with Black people.
Her story isn’t tragic, it’s typical. Daunte’s story is both tragic and typical.
“Daunte Wright is my son, my baby boy and I say ‘is’ and not ‘was’ because he will always be my son and I’m proud to say that,” Daunte’s mother, Katie Wright, said to Potter ahead of sentencing. “Daute’s smile was genuine and big, just like his dreams. You took them. You took his future.”
Potter, of course, offered an obligatory apology to the family, but Katie assured her that she’ll “never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us.”
Nor should she.