Last weekend, a multi-racial group of women and mothers held a press conference in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota calling for authorities to charge former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter with murder for brutally killing Daunte Wright on Sunday April 11, 2021. Potter has since resigned.
During the presser– held by Minnesota’s Racial Justice Network (RJN)– many women shared their personal accounts with police brutality, noting that they fear for their children’s lives because one day they could become a target of police brutality.
Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong, who leads RJN, stated that “it’s not right” that Potter was only charged with manslaughter. Armstrong also discussed the opposition she and other activists have faced in recent days from law enforcement, including being shot with rubber bullets and other acts of violence, and how white women must also join the fight against police brutality.
ESSENCE spoke with Armstrong about why she believes Potter deserves higher charges, why Wright isn’t to blame for his own death, and what message police killings send to the Black community.
Why do you and the other mothers believe former officer Kim Potter should face additional charges?
Nekima Levy Armstrong: We’ve seen another recent case of an accidental shooting by a police officer where the officer was charged with third degree murder and convicted. He became the first officer of Minnesota to be charged and convicted of killing a civilian and it was a Black Muslim Somali officer named Muhammad Noor and the victim was a white affluent woman. This just happened in the last couple of years. There are similarities between the two cases.
Beyond that we feel given that Kim Potter’s 26-year history as a law enforcement officer, the fact that she was a trainer, a field training officer of other supervisors in the department means that she had a heightened level of experience and responsibility and she should be held to a higher level of accountability…we believe that it was an intentional shooting of a young Black man and we’re not going to let her hide behind white femininity in order to get away with killing a young Black man, as women, as mothers who care about racial justice.
What will you do if additional charges aren’t brought against Kim Potter?
NLA: Yeah we’re going to go back to [the prosecutor’s] house. We went to his house over the weekend. There were hundreds of us who showed up. We held a large demonstration for a couple of hours outside of his home, we did a march around his block, when we came back, he was standing outside. He thought we were gone, so he was talking to the neighbors trying to apologize to them when one of our organizers happened to still be standing there. [The organizer] approached him and said why are you apologizing to the neighbors instead of to me, instead of to us?…I walked up and started questioning him and his wife about the situation. He tried to use the excuse that he talked to other civil rights attorneys including [Ben] Crump. I said I don’t care who you spoke with, none of them have been in the street…so we don’t want you making excuses, we want you going back into the law book and finding the justification for charging this woman with murder just as you all did in the case of Muhammad Noor.
“We believe that it was an intentional shooting of a young black man and we’re not going to let her hide behind white femininity in order to get away with killing a young Black man.” Nekima Levy Armstrong, Civil Rights Attorney and Activist
What do you say to people who blame Daunte Wright for his death? Some say if Wright didn’t resist arrest he’d still be alive today.
NLA: There’s no evidence that he would still be alive. Philando Castile [who was also shot and killed in Minnesota] complied with everything that Officer Jeronimo Yanez asked him to do, and he even went above the law telling the officer that he was licensed to carry a firearm and that there was a firearm in the vehicle. Officer Yanez took that information and fired upon him without justification and he was acquitted. There have been many other circumstances in which Black people have complied and they still end up dead.
When these police killings take place, what message does that send?
NLA: It reinforces the reasons we do not trust the system of policing in the state of Minnesota and around the country. It also amplifies what Black people have been saying for years that the system of policing and the criminal legal system are corrupt and very comfortable with taking the life of Black people knowing that there will be no real accountability. Knowing that the legal system will be manipulated in order to allow police officers to kill with impunity. Knowing that creates a sense of fear in our community that makes people not want to have police in their community and not want to cooperate with police. So the justice system has created this problem and they need to be responsible.
They also need to pay attention to who they’re hiring to protect and serve. If you look at the city of Brooklyn Center not a single officer lived in the city of Brooklyn Center and it is a very diverse city, but these officers are coming from lily white suburbs into racially diverse communities acting as an occupying force. All that does is create more dissension and leads to the uprising like what we’ve experienced here in the Twin Cities after George Floyd was killed last year and after Daunte Wright was killed.