It is an ugly reality of adult life that people make mistakes, and as a result of those mistakes, people die. It happens all the time.
Military operations end with unintended casualties because mistakes were made. Industrial accidents resulting in the loss of human life happen because mistakes were made.
We get a little snow, and hundreds of well trained, highly experienced drivers a day make mistakes that result in car crashes … crashes that could cause the death of another person. Like former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter – convicted of manslaughter in the April 11, 2021 shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright – no evidence of bad intent. They aren’t impaired. They weren’t doing something irresponsible like texting while driving. No matter how well people are trained, in high-stress situations in which they have to make quick decisions, people make mistakes, and other people become victims.
In 2016, Johns Hopkins Medicine released a study which concluded that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Those experts estimated that 250,000 people in the U.S. die every year due to medical errors. Multiple studies suggest that only about 10 percent of all medical errors are ever reported. Yes, there are some medical malpractice lawsuits that are covered by insurance. But rarely do the medical professionals involved ever get fired, or lose their license to practice medicine, or get charged with a crime, or get sent to prison for making mistakes that result in the deaths of other people.
Tens of thousands of people have died unnecessarily because self-serving politicians, talk show hosts, and political pundits have intentionally spread misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations. How many of these people who intentionally spread misinformation about COVID-19 have been charged with a crime, or have even been sued. It is not a free speech issue. “Shouting fire in a crowded theater” causing harm to others is not protected free speech.
Given what is publicly known about Officer Kimberly Potter’s actions that resulted in the wrongful death of Daunte Wright, there appears to be zero evidence of any bad intent on the part of Potter. If this is so, then one is left to wonder what “good intent,” empathy and forgiveness there could possibly have been, in public demands that she be charged with murder and be sent to prison for the rest of her life.
One is left to wonder what “good intent” and good judgment the prosecutors used in their decision to charge Kimberly Potter with a crime at all. Just because a case is thought to be winnable, doesn’t necessarily mean that the case should be prosecuted. Prosecutors have a lot of latitude in making these judgment calls.
Then to add salt to the wound after her conviction, the prosecution succeeded in convincing the judge to revoke her bail, send her to prison from court, and then promised to seek prison time beyond the sentencing guidelines? With no evidence of bad intent or pre-meditation? With no criminal history? With her lifelong commitment to law and order and doing the right thing? With her family ties? What’s wrong with this picture?
With Kimberly Potter going to prison, how many good police officers will end up sitting down at the kitchen table with their spouses, wondering if it isn’t time to get out of police work? How many potentially “good” police officers won’t even go into police work because she is going to prison?
In criminal court there is a difference between justice and vengeance. Criminal court is not supposed to be a place where vengeance is served. It is not supposed to be a place where politics or public opinion influence the prosecution, the defense, or the outcome. And the people who probably best know what a court should not be, are people of color who for generations, have known the meaning of justice denied.
Time will tell if the celebration of Potter’s conviction (outside the courtroom) represents a step forward toward much, much needed ethnicity-based criminal justice reforms. Why? Because in the courtroom, the trial and conviction of Kimberly Potter was not about ethnicity. She was never charged with or convicted of a hate crime. Unfortunately, the rightful cause of criminal justice reform may not have moved forward with the conviction of Potter, if the trial about the wrongful death of Wright was not a trial about ethnicity at all.
John A. Mattsen is a retired federal law enforcement officer with a degree in secondary education specializing in the social sciences, and a minor in psychology.