In Minneapolis, the Cycle of Police Violence Continues

In Minneapolis, the Cycle of Police Violence Continues

In Minneapolis, the Cycle of Police Violence Continues

Amir Locke was sleeping. Daunte Wright was going to the car wash. George Floyd was at the corner store. When and where are Black people safe from police?

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Minneapolis, Minn.—The red brick plaza surrounding the Hennepin County Government Center is no stranger to protest. When former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter was convicted of manslaughter in December, days before Christmas, the plaza was filled with activists who cried and hugged and celebrated. “Ain’t no power like the power of the people,” local activist DJ Hooker shouted into a megaphone.

Potter, a white woman, shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, during a traffic stop last April—in the midst of Derek Chauvin’s murder trial. Protests and flash-bangs followed. The day of Potter’s conviction—an outlier for officers who kill—the plaza was decorated with red signs bearing Wright’s photograph. Activists handed out yellow signs that read:

GUILTY

In the thin layer of snow that graced the grass nearby, someone spelled Daunte’s name. Outside the courthouse, his family spoke to the crowd through tears.

On Friday, when Potter was sentenced, their tears came from inside. One by one, Wright’s family members offered victim impact statements. Dressed in black, the mother of Wright’s child called his death an execution.

Two weeks earlier, hundreds drove to the Government Center to protest yet another police killing. Blocks of cars waited to begin a slow crawl through downtown, the exhaust from their tailpipes reminiscent of tear gas. A handful of activists wove through them on foot, amping up the crowd. Negative temperatures made breath visible. A young boy in a Black Lives Matter hoodie stood in the middle of the street with a sign that said:

AM I NEXT

A cacophony of car horns interrupted the otherwise quiet night. Another poster, affixed to a car, read:

HE WAS SLEEPING

Two days earlier, Minneapolis police officer Mark Hanneman killed Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, during a predawn no-knock raid. The no-knock warrant was approved by Judge Peter Cahill. Less than a year ago, the same Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison for murdering George Floyd.

Locke was asleep on his friend’s couch when police burst through the door. He was still under his blanket when Hanneman opened fire. Currently, Hanneman is on paid leave.

The car caravan was one of many protests for Locke. The next day, Locke’s father addressed a crowd of hundreds downtown, in again-freezing temperatures. Draped in a white blanket, one protester gripped a cardboard sign that read:

DON’T SHOOT

A thousand-strong student walkout to the Governor’s Mansion and a smaller student walkout to City Hall came next. Locke’s funeral was held the day before Potter’s sentencing, at the same church where Daunte Wright was laid to rest. Dressed in black, Locke’s mother called his death an execution.

That Friday, on the plaza, a small group of activists listened to Potter’s sentencing via livestream. This time, there was no celebration, no shouts of relief. As Judge Regina Chu explained her decision to give Potter a sentence far below state guidelines, activists voiced their rage. The maximum sentence was 15 years in prison. Potter received 16 months behind bars, eight months of probation, and a $1,000 fine.

Potter’s defense was that she accidentally used her firearm while trying to use her Taser. She gave a tearful apology just before the sentence was handed down. Chu expressed great sympathy for Potter, saying she had honorably served her community and was clearly sorry.

That sympathy, Chu admitted, was swayed by “hundreds and hundreds of letters” sent in support of the former cop.

“This is not a cop found guilty of murder for using his knee to pin down a person for 9.5 minutes as he gasped for air,” Chu said to the courtroom, referencing the murder of George Floyd. She also distinguished Potter from former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, a Black man also found guilty of manslaughter. According to Chu, Noor intentionally drew his firearm when he shot and killed a white woman, while Potter made a “tragic mistake” when faced with a “split-second decision”—an excuse that often impedes prosecution in the first place.

“In making my decision, I look to the purposes of incarceration,” Chu said. “There are four: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Three of the four would not be served in this case.”

As the judge’s soft-spoken defense of Potter came through the live stream, several activists began to pace around. The judge mentioned Daunte Wright only briefly in the beginning of her address.

“It’s gonna happen again,” someone on the plaza said.

Hooker, like many local activists, was disappointed by the sentence. They wrote on social media: “Without any real policy change the only message they sent is that you have to kill black people faster then [sic] 9 mins.”

In St. Paul, the three other ex-officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights are also on trial. Daunte Wright was killed on the 14th day of Derek Chauvin’s trial in 2021, while Amir Locke was killed on the ninth day of this one. Darnella Frazier, the young girl who filmed Floyd’s murder, testified at both. Last summer, her uncle was killed when Minneapolis police crashed into his car while in pursuit of someone else.

In a press conference following Potter’s conviction, attorney Ben Crump told NPR News it represented a “​​profound proclamation of the progress that we’ve made” in the 10 years since Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, sparking the Black Lives Matter movement. But Potter’s light sentence and ongoing police violence complicate that narrative.

Meanwhile, the public officials who pledged change following the murder of George Floyd have continued to lead with deceit instead of transparency. When Locke was killed, police inaccurately referred to him as a “suspect.” When Floyd was killed, police initially called his death a “medical incident.”

During his recent, successful reelection campaign, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey also touted the fact that he had banned no-knock warrants. After Locke was killed during a no-knock raid, Frey banned them again.

The Friday before Potter’s sentencing, activists and community members marched to City Hall and presented over 1,300 formal complaints demanding an ethics investigation into Mayor Frey. They held signs that read:

FREY LIED, AMIR DIED

Robin Wonsley Worlobah, who became the first Black socialist on the Minneapolis City Council when she was elected last fall, penned an op-ed calling for Frey’s resignation while criticizing his “crocodile tears” and “toothless reforms.”

Frey, who cried on George Floyd’s casket, did not attend Amir Locke’s funeral. Last summer, he bypassed the city council to reopen the semiautonomous protest zone called George Floyd Square. The center of the zone is marked by a tall Black Power fist. Smaller fists stand where barricades once did. In honor of Locke, each is currently wrapped in a white blanket.

An angel is painted on the concrete where George Floyd died. On a clothesline above it hangs a red sign with Locke’s photograph. Across the street, a white piece of wood with yellow letters reads:

JUSTICE IS NOT GUARANTEED BY SENTENCING GAVEL

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