Tough question: What can be done about the killing of unarmed black men and women by the police?
It’s a different story with an armed thief or rioter who has a weapon in hand and refuses to drop it, even if the weapon is a knife, not a gun. The shooting of such a person — of whatever ethnicity — by a cop who feels threatened is something most people can understand. And typically it goes unchallenged by the courts.
Clearly, however, our country is now torn by two cases currently stage center, both in the Minneapolis area: First, the long-running, and daily televised, trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of suffocating George Floyd, 46, by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes during an arrest May 25. And second, the shooting April 8 only 10 minutes from the Chauvin trial in progress, of Daunte Wright, age 20, by now-former policewoman Kim Potter in Brooklyn Center.
Both Floyd and Wright were black. Chauvin and Potter are white.
Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of passing counterfeit money. Wright was stopped for a broken taillight, but police then tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant.
The use of lethal force was not required to subdue either suspect. Floyd was handcuffed and totally immobilized on the ground as Chauvin kept up pressure on his neck. Bystanders who yelled at Chauvin to get off Floyd “because he’s dying” were ignored, both by Chauvin and three fellow officers on the scene.
Even when the EMS arrived to take Floyd to a hospital, Chauvin initially refused to move.
Wright was inside a car when shot and had apparently been resisting arrest but had no weapons on him. Potter did not know Wright and, ostensibly, had had no previous contact with him in any environment. She was a 20-year veteran and indeed an officer tasked with training newer members of the force on proper arrest and restraint tactics.
Potter said she mistook her firearm for her taser. The two devices are not kept near one another on an officer’s belt. They certainly have a different feel in the hand. The shooting of Wright by Potter seems like an aberration — strange, inexplicable. Potter, who resigned from the police force after the shooting, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.
As this column went to press, the world was still waiting for a decision by a jury of six white, four black and two multiracial individuals in the Chauvin trial. Possible verdicts ranged from second-degree murder to third-degree homicide (manslaughter) to not guilty.
One police officer, Brett Hankinson, will go on trial in Louisville in August in connection with the shooting death of Brionna Taylor, 26, in her apartment, after her boyfriend had fired a gun as the officers made a warrantless incursion. Both Taylor and her boyfriend were black. Hankinson, who is white, is charged with wanton endangerment.
At issue currently is the matter of qualified immunity for police officers, which provides them latitude for the use of force beyond what might be accorded to civilians and the presumption of good judgment. One state legislature, that of Maryland, has been considering the reduction of qualified immunity.
Recruitment and retention of officers will undoubtedly become more difficult if qualified immunity protections are removed and indictment and jail time for unwarranted use of lethal force loom larger.