Just 10 miles from where Derek Chauvin is on trial for killing George Floyd, another case of police violence is unfolding. On Sunday afternoon, a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center reportedly pulled over Daunte Wright for driving with expired tags. The situation escalated when the officer learned that there was an outstanding warrant for Wright's arrest. The attempted arrest turned fatal when the officer shot Wright. Now, as countless people take to the streets in protest, the incident is being labelled an "accidental discharge."
Kim Potter, the 26-year veteran law enforcement official who shot Wright, is now the subject of an investigation after body camera footage showed her allegedly mistaking her gun for her taser. During a news conference, Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon said it appeared as though Potter intended to fire her taser but instead accidentally fired her gun. "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Potter can be heard shouting in the footage before screaming, "Holy shit! I just shot him.” The video stopped moments later. Two other unnamed officers were on the scene when Potter pulled Wright over.
Brian Peters, head of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, told the Star Tribune that at the time of the shooting, Potter was working as a field training officer, training a new police officer. According to the Tribune, Potter had been on the force for quite some time — originally receiving her police license in 1995 — and even served as her police union's president.
Gannon says that Potter’s actions were consistent with her training and Wright’s death was accidental. He claims that Potter "had the intention" to deploy her taser "but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet." In the meantime, Potter has been suspended pending the results of a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation. The organization made a brief statement citing an active investigation but that Potter was on "standard administrative leave."
However, many question how Potter could have mistaken her gun for a taser. The standard-issue guns for the Brooklyn Center Police Department all weigh significantly more than a typical taser. Further, tasers are designed to feel and look different from guns in order to avoid this type of confusion. What's more, a gun requires disabling a safety locking feature in order to use it. "If you train enough, you should be able to tell," Scott A. DeFore, a retired sergeant with the Los Angeles Police Department told The New York Times. The body camera footage does not show how Potter carried her weapons; however, it does show one of her fellow police officers with his gun on one side and his taser on the other.
Rich Stanek, a former police officer, and law enforcement consultant, told Minneapolis' ABC affiliate station that officers are trained to carry their taser on the opposite side of their belt from their gun. Specifically, away from their non-dominant hand as instances in which a taser is used are not deemed life-threatening.
This type of discharge is not an isolated incident in Minnesota, either. In 2002, Officer Gregory Siem shot a man named Christofar Atak at close range while mistakenly using his Glock instead of his taser. The case was settled for $900,000 USD, and the police force committed to training their officers better. However, in August 2020, the Star Tribune published a story referencing Minneapolis police data that showed that the predominantly white city's law enforcement disproportionately stopped and searched Black and East African drivers and their vehicles during routine traffic stops.
Between June 2019 to May 2020, Black drivers accounted for 78% of police searches for moving or equipment violations. Only 12% of searches in that same time frame were of white people, despite the city being made up of 63.6% white people.
Potter's "intention," as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension put it, is not the issue at stake. Rather, it's that police officers — even the ones pulling people over for traffic violations — are fully armed and capable of killing, and seem to continue targeting Black citizens. Potter's "intention," whatever it might have been, resulted in yet another Black man's death. And to that point, Wright is yet another Black man killed by police in Minneapolis, a city that has been in mourning from racist police killings for years, but especially since Philando Castile was shot and killed at a traffic stop while his girlfriend and child were in the car in 2016.
"An 'accidental discharge' that kills someone has another name: manslaughter," New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman tweeted. "We don't need police with lethal weapons carrying out routine traffic stops. Re-allocate police funding to unarmed traffic forces to remove even the possibility of state-sanctioned manslaughter."
While Potter has yet to publicly comment, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot said he believes she should be terminated. "My position is that we cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people in our profession," he said during a news conference. "And so I do fully support releasing the officer of her duties."
Ben Crump, an attorney for Wright's family, also made a statement calling the shooting "entirely preventable" and "inhumane."
"As Minneapolis and the rest of the country continue to deal with the tragic killing of George Floyd, now we must also mourn the loss of this young man and father," Crump said.