Three Police Shooting Stories Collide Tuesday as Minnesota Reaches Boiling Point
Three stories collided Tuesday that cast a dark shadow on the state of policing in the U.S., especially as it relates to Black men. Each is a tragic example of the worst that can happen when law enforcement chooses to use force in lieu of deescalation or less lethal methods.
In Minnesota, the Derek Chauvin trial continued Tuesday with the defense team calling its first witnesses in an attempt to justify the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Throughout the prior 11 days and 38 witnesses led by the prosecution, defense attorney Eric Nelson has tried to spin the focus onto Floyd’s drug use, prior medical conditions and the bystanders who witnessed the killing — he’s exhausted just about every angle that avoids holding Chauvin responsible for killing Floyd and denying him medical care.
Tuesday was more of the same.
Defense called another responding Minneapolis officer, Peter Chang, to try and paint the bystanders as a threat and Barry Brodd, a use-of-force expert, who claimed Chauvin did not use deadly force and that force he did exert was justified because Floyd was “noncompliant.” Pushed by prosecutor Steve Schleicher during cross examination, Brodd went as far as saying that Floyd was noncompliant because he was not “resting comfortably” while under restraint.
Schleicher, who has so far through the trial maintained a professional and measured tone, was obviously taken by surprise:
“Did you say resting comfortably? Resting comfortably on the pavement at this point in time when he’s attempting to breathe by shoving his shoulder into the pavement?”
The prosecutor followed up by asking whether trying to breathe while being restrained is a sign on noncompliance, to which the paid witness was forced to reply, “No.”
In Brooklyn Center, just 10 miles away from where Chauvin sat scribbling on his notepad, Mayor Mike Elliott held a press conference for the second day in a row in response to Sunday’s police killing of Daunte Wright in traffic stop gone wrong. After the body camera footage was released in record time Monday, Police Chief Tim Gannon alleged 26-year veteran officer Kim Potter mistook her firearm for a Taser. For Bay Area locals, the claim triggers harsh memories of Oscar Grant’s death at the BART Fruitvale station in 2009.
Tuesday’s press conference announced the resignations of both Potter and Gannon, and the mayor faced understandable anger over Wright’s killing and police response many feel have escalated tensions during protests. The mayor acknowledged the lack of community in the city’s police system, with none of its estimated 49 officers actually living in Brooklyn Center, which has a Black population of 28 percent.
The mayor’s office has since assumed “command authority” of the police department and has called on the governor to transfer criminal prosecution to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office.
As if the two police shooting stories coming out of Minnesota wasn’t enough, it was also revealed Tuesday that the Kenosha, Wisconsin officer who partially paralyzed Jacob Blake with seven gunshots in his back, at close range, was cleared of wrongdoing in that August 2020 incident. Officer Rusten Sheskey was apparently returned to duty on March 31.
Adding to the emotional turmoil that naturally comes with relentless police shooting stories is dangerous precedent that arises when officers are not held accountable for their fatal actions. In the case of Oscar Grant’s death, BART police officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after claiming he meant to use his Taser and accidentally shot Grant in the back, who was face down on the platform at the time. Mehserle was sentenced to just two years with time served. That sentencing may serve as precedent for the consequence Potter may, or may not, face.
Chauvin’s attorney is playing a reckless game by trying to pin the officer’s actions on the crowd who witnessed him dig his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes. While audibly and sometimes visually upset, none of the witnesses approached officers aggressively or failed to obey police orders. If Chauvin is acquitted based in part on that legal defense, it will set a precedent that any crowd can be considered a threat that excuses use of deadly force.
These are heavy topics charged with raw emotions from community members tired of the same tired excuses, and at times, that exhaustion with the status quo turns to anger, which is what Minnesota is experiencing out in the streets for a third night in a row since Wright was killed inside his car. Frustrations are mounting Tuesday night with clashes between protesters and police as the 10 p.m. curfew approaches.
The state was already braced for unrest related to Chauvin’s trial, which is expected to come to a close in arguments by the end of this week.