The sole charge of 2nd Degree Manslaughter brought against former Officer Kim Potter for the killing of Daunte Wright demonstrates a significant failure by Washington County Attorney Pete Orput to pursue and seek justice for Mr. Wright on behalf of our communities, and a dereliction of their responsibility to hold police accountable.
The Legal Rights Center (“LRC”) condemns the charging decision by the Washington County Attorney’s Office, and strongly urges Governor Walz to take immediate action and direct Attorney General Keith Ellison to assume responsibility for the case going forward. An appropriate charging decision would, at the very least, mirror the charging decision made against former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor who was charged with 2nd Deg. Murder, 3rd Deg. Murder and 2nd Deg.Manslaughter for shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
A 2nd Degree Murder charge would better reflect what we all witnessed in the body-worn camera footage released on Monday, and would reflect the community’s belief that former officer Potter’s actions were not merely a mistake.
We are also concerned with Washington County Attorney Pete Orput’s role in the prosecution of this case. Orput serves as legal counsel to the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, an unacceptable bias that should serve as an obvious conflict of interest. This case should not be prosecuted by a County Attorney who has no elected accountability to the residents of Hennepin County and who simultaneously advises the chiefs of police who have a vested interest in the outcome of the case that his office is now tasked with prosecuting.
There are also disturbing inconsistencies in the role that the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (“HCAO”) has played in determining charges against law enforcement involved in the killing of our community members. Despite a June 2020 agreement to refer these cases to other offices for prosecution—the rationale cited for passing responsibility for this case to the Washington County Attorney—the HCAO made their own decisions not to charge police officers involved in the killings of Kobe Dimock-Heisler and Chiaser Vue. The inconsistency is glaring. The LRC demands that the exact terms of the agreement be made public, and that the rationale for which cases are referred and which cases remain at the HCAO be made public.
In the shadow of the continuing trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, and on the same day that hundreds of grieving, yet still resilient, community members marched and rallied in St. Paul to demand justice for Justin Teigen and all lives lost to police, 20-year-old father of one Daunte Wright was gunned down by police after a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, MN.
Just as in the murder of George Floyd, the circumstances that led to Mr. Wright being shot at point-blank range by a police officer reflect the deep and pervasive harms of our law enforcement systems. Mr. Wright was stopped for having expired tabs. Whether he had a warrant or not, this should never have resulted in his death. Fleeing police does not merit a death sentence.
The LRC is deeply saddened by yesterday’s events in Brooklyn Center. Our hearts and thoughts are with the family of Daunte Wright and all who knew and loved him. Once again, Black parents have to grapple with and process the death of a young Black man and explain it to their children. Today and everyday, our Black community must confront the reality that police might kill them, just for living. As our community takes to the street to demand justice, we demand that force not be used against protesters, and that deadly force not to be used at all, whatever the circumstance.
The LRC was born from movements in African American and American Indian communities that shared the common experience of police violence, along with racial and culturally based oppression – and sought its own tool for advancing justice. Soon after, we were joined by the growing immigrant communities who experienced much of the same.
While oppression takes many forms, all our communities deeply feel the weight of the disregard for our individual humanity that so often pervades our systems, impacts our daily lives in vastly disproportionate ways, creates harmful inequity for our children, and forces communities of color to be unduly vigilant about physical risks on a daily basis – including the very real risk of unnecessary death by police.
The LRC stands with all communities and allies seeking criminal justice reform. We stand with the families of Daunte Wright, George Floyd, Justin Teigen, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Terrence Franklin, and all lives lost to police.
'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' –
1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In spite of the 1st Amendment, the police, aka, the State, often employ a variety of anti-democratic tactics to curtail the rights of protesters and demonstrators when civil and human rights are under attack, or whenever peaceful protesters gather as a way to express grievances over acts of injustice. Tear gas, pepper balls, rubber bullets, real bullets, sonic cannons, arrest and detention, etc., are but a few of the tactics police have utilized against the people protesting peacefully against white supremacy. For the State, violence is an option often used without restraint against Black, Brown and Indigenous demonstrators.
So it makes sense that activists and protesters develop tactics of their own in defense of the causes moving towards social justice and equality.
Legal Rights Center Investigator Garrett Fitzgerald spoke recently about the imperative for activists and protesters to learn what he refers to as 'Activist Solidarity Tactics (ASTs).
Fitzgerald is a veteran activist, and in 2008 was a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee, and subsequently a member of the historic RNC 8 group of activists targeted by police as 'terrorists' for organizing peaceful protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and the metro-wide repression that came with it. He knows something about protests, police and state repression tactics, and what protesters, activists and marginalized peoples can do about them.
1. Why is it important for citizen-activists -- no matter their cause(s) -- to be versed or trained in 'Activist Solidarity' tactics?
'Solidarity is the mutual responsibility and unity of purpose among a group. It is a mechanism by which those with less power can pool their effort to make gains for their collective betterment. Classically, the labor union; individual workers have little power over the boss, but when they unite in common cause that can shift the balance of power. For our purposes we are speaking of “Activist Solidarity” from the point of law enforcement intervention at an action (I use action to encompass protest, demonstration, direct action, civil disobedience or any other moment of challenge to the status quo) up to the point of completion of any criminal case and and its consequences.
'Law enforcement intervention and subsequent legal ensnarement is part of the reactionary political force I refer to as repression. Repression, in short, is the means the state uses to protect itself from change. If you are effective in working to make a change that is a challenge to the status quo – no matter the cause – than you will face repression. To win the day we must all maximize our repression resiliency. One of the ways we do that is by making sure that when we do face repression we squeeze out every drop of power building and change making that we can from the situation so that we win more than we lose.
'Often folks focus on the action and feel powerless in the legal system. Activist Solidarity is about identifying points of intervention and taking collective action to get demands met. This could be [by way of] demands to make sure everyone gets better treatment in custody, like chanting loudly until you are given water or an injured friend receives medical treatment. It could be to push back against the repressive force directly like a call-in campaign to get charges dropped, or it could be to continue to push the goals of the action like using the platform of the court case to speak in the media about why you took action.'
2. In your opinion, how has the state's resolve to selectively use repression evolved/changed over time, despite our constitution's alleged protections of our rights?
'Repression is constant. It is a continuing reaction to movements for change. The methods and degree depend on the context of the movement and it’s moment. Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” The 45th president’s Muslim ban sounds a lot like the Alien & Sedition Acts of the early 1800s. The FBI’s CoIntelPro operations against the Black Panther Party dubbed “Black Extremists” and “Black Nationalist Hate Groups” sounds a lot like the FBI’s BLM investigations of “Black Identity Extremists”. The fire hoses used against civil rights era marchers looked a lot like the fire hoses used against NoDAPL protesters in 2016.
'There are a few key ways the repression has evolved that I think it behooves us to keep track of. One is the further encroachment of private security contractors into law enforcement operations. This is troubling for many reasons, but foremost that private security agencies aren’t bound by the same laws and regulations as the police. Your rights exist to protect you from the state, so as long as private security, a non-state actor, is within the law it has no obligation to your rights. For example, TigerSwan Security ran intelligence gathering operations during the NoDAPL protests and those whose first amendment activity was chilled due to their investigation had less recourse.
'Another rising tendency is “counterinsurgency policing” or COIN. COIN is primarily about a battle for legitimacy. It is more like a “hearts and minds” occupation characterized by social mapping of communities and information management. For example, after the uprising last summer law enforcement didn’t try to identify “leaders” to hold accountable. Instead they tried to wedge off a group of “bad actors” that they could prosecute to both chill ever encroaching types of street action, and also paint themselves as necessary to “maintain order”. This continued throughout the past year with the constant drone about the need for more money for more officers to fight an increase in violent crime in the city. A narrative directly in conflict with the defund/dismantle/abolish conversations happening on the street.'
3. How do Activist Solidarity Tactics result in better court/jail outcomes (Or how do ASTs build the power of movements)?
'The tactics can lead to better legal outcomes, for example, by everyone being released from jail without bail because everyone refuses to post bail and the jails overflow. But, the greatest impact is in the movements, communities and individuals who successfully wield these tactics. Once you have seen that you have the power to force more powerful agents to do what you want, the realm of possibility expands. '
4. What similarities/differences do you see between the state's response to say, the Standing Rock and Line 3 protests; the uprisings and protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, vs the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. capitol?
'This is why I think the framework of repression is so helpful. It isn’t just because the January 6th actors were white that led to them being treated more gently, it was because they were/are a regressive force pushing to keep things the same. In that sense there is less need to repress them. Sure, the state wants them out of the capital building, but their white supremacist and culturally supremacist ideas are totally in line with the standard operating procedures of America.
'Throughout history forces resistant to change have always said “we are a nation of laws” up until following the law would create an existential threat to their power, social order, or world view. Then it is the “duty of every patriot to rebel against trinity.” It isn’t a double standard, it is a logic that prioritizes the maintaining of control by the white property owning class. It is consistent in this.'
5 Last thoughts?
'The key to solidarity is relationships, and some amount of vulnerability and trust. It can be hard to be open when you feel under attack. That is part of what the system counts on. Understand that being vulnerable with each other might feel risky sometimes, but it is also the source of our greatest collective strength. This is true throughout movements for change. I would note that knowing how to be strong through vulnerability is generally a “soft skill” or a skill that is “feminized” in our patriarchal society. In that way, choosing to walk a path of strength through vulnerability is an act against cis-heteropatriarchy. It is also a power that doesn’t fit the traditional patriarchal/military worldview, and is more likely to be invisible and unplanned for by repressive forces.
Written by Emanual Williams
During Tuesday’s proceedings in the Chauvin trial, Morries Hall, who was in the car with George Floyd moments before police arrived on the scene, filed a motion to quash (or void) a subpoena from the defense to make him take the witness stand. Hall’s attorney threatened to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, saying that Hall’s alleged drug activity with George Floyd could leave him vulnerable to a third-degree murder charge in connection to the death of Mr. Floyd. His attorney stated that Mr. Hall could not be questioned without potentially incriminating himself. Judge Cahill ordered the defense to submit their questions for Hall in writing and has said he will decide on the issue following his review of this submission.
What does it mean for one of the key witnesses to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination? And how can he incriminate himself when Derek Chauvin is the one on trial?
The Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees that no person in a criminal case can be compelled to be a witness against themselves. A witness, like a defendant, may assert their Fifth Amendment right to prevent self-incrimination, which means that they may refuse to answer questions if they fear their testimony could implicate them in criminal activity. The criminal activity doesn’t need to pertain to the case at hand. Unlike criminal defendants, when a witness chooses to plead the Fifth, they are not able to avoid testifying altogether. Witnesses who are subpoenaed to testify must testify unless all of the questions are deemed to be self-incriminating. To be self-incriminating, a witness’s compelled answers must pose a substantial and real, and not merely a trifling or imaginary, hazard of criminal prosecution.
In this case, Hall’s connection with the drugs allegedly sold to Mr. Floyd and the discarding of an unknown object from Hall’s backpack could lead to him being charged with third-degree murder. Thus, he can refuse to answer any questions related to these topics by asserting his Fifth Amendment privilege. He could still, however, have to answer other questions about his observations and experiences on the day Mr. Floyd was killed. This is why Judge Cahill wants to review the defense’s proposed questions. If all or most of them would require Hall to incriminate himself, Judge Cahill may quash his subpoena and allow Hall not to testify. If any of the questions, however, would not elicit incriminating answers, Hall may still need to testify.
Sometimes when a witness has a Fifth Amendment privilege, the prosecutor will give them immunity from prosecution, which protects them from future charges based on the statements they make as a witness and allows them to safely testify. In this case, Hall has not been granted immunity, a point he and his attorney have raised as they seek to quash his subpoena to testify.
Whether Hall takes the witness stand or not could prove to be a big development in both the prosecution and defense’s trial plans. We can only wait to see if the written questions submitted by the defense will meet the standards of the Court.
by: Rashard Zanders
Will the video evidence be sufficient to win convictions against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the case of the State of MN vs Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd?
In the weeks leading up to the trial a noticeable tension has washed over the city of Minneapolis. Police Chief Arradondo and Mayor Jacob Frey have invited the ATF, FBI, MN state police and other agencies to patrol the city in general and the autonomous zone at 38th and Chicago Avenue on the south side where Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in particular.
Confidence in the trial process took a serious hit during the jury selection process that many observers believe was racist (by disqualifying candidates of color whose lived experiences with police had been negative). Those exclusions have created a jury pool that could possibly acquit Derek Chauvin despite the viral video seen worldwide by millions of George Floyd's last moments.
According to the online dictionary merriam-webster.com, sophistry -- ‘subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation’ -- has its roots in Greek philosophy, but it has long been roosted in the U.S. judicial system. Chauvin's defense is relying on a 'who're you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?' defense, coupled with the traditional racist tropes that underpin the American judicial system and dehumanize Black men ('George Floyd was a big Black guy!’) in the eyes of the court. The defense hopes to put the deceased Mr. Floyd on trial in the mind of at least one juror to try to achieve an acquittal based on 'reasonable doubt.'
Does the video provide enough evidence to convict Chauvin?
Here are two observations from attorneys from the Minneapolis-based Legal Rights Center, Josh Esmay, and Bridget Sabo respectively.
Esmay opined that ‘the state is going to rely very heavily on the video and that they likely feel that most of the key facts that the jury needs needs to convict are in the video; the duration of the use of force long after Floyd was unconscious, the position of Chauvin's body on Floyd's neck, Chauvin's demeanor, and the way he appears to cinch it down in response to bystander's pleas to let Floyd up because he couldn't breath. The state will also present medical evidence to establish that Chauvin's actions caused Floyd's death, but the video itself goes straight to the question of whether the force used by Chauvin was objectively reasonable, which will be a key issue.
'I expect that the defense is going to try and argue basically that the video doesn't show the whole picture. They will have police use of force experts that will probably testify that use of force was reasonable under the circumstances and consistent with their training, and they will argue that Floyd was intoxicated which muddies the cause of death – either negating Chauvin's actions as a cause entirely, or contributing enough to the cause of death that the jury can't find that element proven beyond a reasonable doubt.'
Sabo is a juvenile attorney and a restorative justice facilitator with the LRC. She agreed with Esmay's analysis and added 'it is my fervent hope that the video WILL be enough to convict Chauvin on all of the charges against him. The reality of our judicial system is that even when there is irrefutable proof of the commission of a crime, a defendant has a right to a trial.
'Often when there is evidence as clear as the video in this case, a defendant pleads guilty. Chauvin tried to do that, way back in June, when Freeman still had the case and Chauvin felt he would get some benefit from the plea. Luckily, in my opinion, that plea was pulled and Chauvin ended up not being able to take it.
'Chauvin could have straight pled to the charges against him (with no benefit from making a deal other than not putting the public through this trauma), but he hasn't. Since he didn't do that, here we are at a trial where, hopefully, it will be as obvious to the jury as it is to us just how guilty Chauvin is.'
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