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Ben Crump on Fighting for Justice for Daunte Wright, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin & Z’Kye Husain

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Former Minneapolis police officer Kim Potter was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday for fatally shooting Black driver Daunte Wright after mistaking her gun for a Taser. We speak to Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Wright family, about Judge Regina Chu’s sympathy expressed for Potter during closing statements and how white criminals tend to receive lighter sentences. “Police officers, when it comes to Black people, they always do the most,” says Crump. Crump also weighs in on other clients he currently represents, such as the family of Ahmaud Arbery, the unarmed Black jogger who was fatally shot in Georgia, and Z’Kye Husain, a Black teen who was racially profiled and violently arrested by police in a New Jersey mall.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

In Minneapolis Friday, a judge sentenced former police officer Kim Potter to two years in prison for the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a minor traffic stop last April. Potter was convicted of manslaughter in December. Judge Regina Chu said Potter made a “tragic mistake” when she shot Wright, a 20-year-old Black man. Potter claimed she meant to deploy her Taser. Video shows Potter shouting several times she was going to tase Wright, but her service gun, a Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol, was in her hand. She fired one shot into Wright’s chest. On Friday, Judge Regina Chu broke down and cried as she talked about Kim Potter.

JUDGE REGINA CHU: Kimberly Potter was trying to do the right thing. Of all the jobs in public service, police officers have the most difficult one. They must make snap decisions under tense, evolving and ever-changing circumstances. They risk their lives every single day in public service. Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically. She never intended to hurt anyone. Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines.

AMY GOODMAN: Kim Potter was ordered to serve to 16 months in prison, then eight months in supervised release, for killing Daunte Wright. Some had expected her to receive a seven-year sentence. Minnesota state law permits a maximum sentence of 15 years. Daunte’s mother Katie Wright responded Friday after the sentencing.

KATIE WRIGHT: Today the justice system murdered him all over again. To sit there and watch, pouring my heart out in my victim impact statement, that took so long to write, and I reread it over and over again, to not get a response out of the judge at all, but then when it came down convicting — or, to sentencing Kim Potter, she broke out in tears. So, once again, we are standing here to say that we’re very disappointed in the outcome. Yes, we got a conviction, and we thank everybody for that. But again, this isn’t OK. This is the problem with our justice system today: White woman tears trumps — trumps — justice. And I thought my white woman tears would be good enough, because they’re true and genuine. But when they’re coerced, coached and taught by the defense attorney, I guess we didn’t have a win in this at all.

AMY GOODMAN: At a White House press briefing Friday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Potter’s sentence and expressed support for Daunte Wright’s family.

PRESS SECRETARY JEN PSAKI: Well, what I can say is that Daunte Wright should be here with his family and loved ones, and his death was the tragic result of a law enforcement officer’s error. We know we have a long way to go when it comes to criminal justice and racial equity in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by civil rights attorney Ben Crump. He represents the family of Daunte Wright, along with the families of Ahmaud Arbery and Z’Kye Husain and Malcolm X — all cases we’re going to discuss today. But let’s start with Kim Potter.

You’re right there, Ben, standing next to Katie Wright as she responds to the verdict. Can you talk about what happened? And start off with the traffic stop itself, with the air freshener on his mirror.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: [inaudible] the example of what we believe excessive force by police officers when they interact with Black people in America. I have long said that police officers, when it comes to Black people, they always do the most. And you see that, time and time again, seems like they show such professionalism and so much consideration, so much restraint, when they interact with white citizens, but when it’s Black citizens, whether it is Amir Locke and Breonna Taylor, where they execute these dangerous no-knock warrants in the wee hours of the night and early morning, or when it’s George Floyd, who has an alleged $20 bill that’s counterfeit, and they could just give him a notice to appear, it seems to be always “Let’s do the most,” and certainly with Daunte Wright, what a lot of people have argued as a pretextual stop about an air freshener. And there are — they try to say it was his tag was expired, during a global pandemic, where there was a memo sent out saying to all the police officers in the state of Minnesota, “There are going to be many people with expired tags because everything is shut down, so we are advising not to pull people over for expired tags.” But yet they pulled Daunte Wright over for a minor traffic stop, and it ended up in this death sentence.

And, you know, we’ve often heard where they say, “We meant to pull our Taser and pulled our gun,” when it comes to Black people and Brown people, whether Oscar Grant and others; however, you don’t hear them making this mistake when it’s white citizens. It’s just citizens of color they seem to make these errors, Amy. And she didn’t even have to pull the Taser. It’s a minor traffic stop. You have the tag number. Was it really that important to pull the Taser or use any excessive force over something you had already been given notice that the state DMV said, “We don’t want you criminalizing them because we were shut down.” And so, that’s the history of it.

And she was convicted by a jury of her peers. It was a majority-white jury. And the crime that she was convicted of was not one of intent; it was one of recklessness. So, it was so deflating to hear the judge say, “Well, because she didn’t mean it, we’re going to do a downward departure. We’re going to give her all the consideration in the world,” because in that same courtroom a few years earlier, a Black police officer was convicted for killing a white woman —

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamed Noor.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: — and — Mohamed Noor. And he had a manslaughter — a second-degree manslaughter conviction. Kim Potter had a first-degree manslaughter conviction. Mohamed Noor, this Black man, said all the same things, that —

AMY GOODMAN: Somali American.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yeah, all the same things. Society perceived him as a Black man. And he said all the same things. When he shot the white woman, he was worried about his fellow officer’s safety. He felt remorse. He did not mean it. But yet he got no consideration. In fact, the judge sentenced him to the top of the guidelines, did an upward departure. And then, when you look at this white woman killing this young Black man and saying it was about officer safety and she’s sorry, well, she got all the consideration in the world. She will spend less time in prison than many Black people will spend in prison for selling marijuana, even though marijuana is legal in many states. And that is what has made so many people outraged, because it just seems to underscore the two justice systems in America — one for white America and another for Black America.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of which, I want to go to Georgia. Closing arguments are starting today in the federal hate crimes trial of the three white men convicted at the state level for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Defense lawyers rested their case Friday after calling just one witness. Last Thursday, jurors were shown graphic images of Arbery’s autopsy. One juror asked the judge if there was money for counseling available after hearing the racist language used by the killers and after viewing the images of the damage to Arbery’s body caused by two close-range blasts from Travis McMichael’s 12-gauge shotgun. This comes after Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael — former cop — and William “Roddie” Bryan were convicted by a Georgia court in November of felony murder and other charges for chasing down and killing Arbery. He was killed two years ago this Wednesday, February 23rd, 2020. Georgia has passed a resolution that the day will now be known as the Ahmaud Arbery Day throughout Georgia.

Ben Crump, can you talk about this case? I mean, the number of times that you saw in these texts of the — of, for example, the man with the gun, Travis McMichael, using the N-word, that’s when the juror first started saying, “We need therapy in dealing with this.” Talk about what has to be proved here. It’s not just the murder; it’s the animus, motivated by racial animus.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes, and that’s why these federal hate crimes are so rare to have people held accountable, because you have to be able to prove that the crime, the murder, the act, was motivated by race. And oftentimes you don’t have text messages like the ones we see recovered from Travis and Gregory McMichael, where they seem to have a predisposition when they interact with people based on race. They talk about the protesters should all be killed, and they use the N-word in a line with that. One woman testified that Travis McMichael referred to her as an N-word lover because she was dating an African American man. You see them over and over again talk about they need to get rid of Black people, that they are the problem, you know, with their job or whatever — all kind of horrific comments. And so I believe this should be enough to have the jury convict them of a historic hate crime conviction, which I believe will be the first ever in the state of Georgia.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, I want to go to this other case of police brutality that you are now involved in, this horrific video emerging of two police officers breaking up a fight between a Black and a white person in a mall. The Black teen, the older white teen is — the Black teen is pushed down, handcuffed, knee in his back. The white teen is put on the couch to sit there free. You see the older teen shoving Z’Kye. They come to blows. Fourteen seconds into the fight, a pair of white police officers arrive and pull the boys apart. One offficer wrestles Z’Kye to the floor as he puts his knee in his back. The other officer pushes the white teen on the couch and motions him to sit still and then presses her knee into Z’Kye’s shoulder, as well. Z’Kye is handcuffed. The older white teen looks on, is not arrested. The video ends with a bystander’s comments.

BYSTANDER: Yo, it’s because he’s Black. [bleep] Racially motivated!

AMY GOODMAN: Z’Kye’s mother, Eboné, told CNN racism clearly played a role in the officers’ disparate treatment of the two boys.

Bq. EBONÉ HUSAIN: I hate to say this, but if it wasn’t for race, then what is it? What made them tackle my son, not the other kid? What made them be so aggressive with my son, not the other kid? Why is the other kid sitting down, looking at my son be humiliated and put into cuffs? It just doesn’t make sense. And it makes me angry.

AMY GOODMAN: Saturday, outside Bridgewater police headquarters in New Jersey, people chanted, “We are Z’Kye.” Your final comments on this, before we go to Malcolm X?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes, Amy. Again, you see where police in America, like the criminal justice system, presumes Black people to be guilty until proven innocent and presumes white people to be innocent until proven guilty. And in this situation, the back story is Z’Kye was trying to stand up against a bully to help protect his friend. But yet, when the police came, the first thing they saw was: “Young Black man, guilty. Let’s take him down, put a knee in his back, and let’s handcuff him,” while the white kid is allowed to sit there free and observe the Black kid being humiliated.

And the reason we have to have accountability on this matter is, if we don’t, they end up being the next Trayvon Martin, the next Ahmaud Arbery. And that’s why when people say, “Well, he wasn’t killed. He wasn’t hurt. What’s that — why are you all making such a big deal out of this?” it’s because when they wrongfully accuse our children and our people, you end up with Black men staying in prison for decades, wrongfully convicted, because somebody made a presumption.

And one last thing I will say, it all ties together when you think about the sentencing of Kim Potter. The judge said at the end, “Just put yourself in Kim Potter’s shoes,” a convicted killer. This is what the judge asked the citizens of society to do. I have never heard a judge say, when a Black person had been a convicted killer, “Put yourself in their shoes.” That’s the kind of consideration that police and the criminal justice system and American society give to white people when they have committed a crime versus when you have Black people completely innocent. We still don’t get the consideration. Think of Z’Kye. Think of Trayvon. Think of Ahmaud Arbery. And the list goes on and on.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is the 10th anniversary, next weekend, of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Ben Crump, of course, deeply involved with that case, as well. Ben, we’d like you to stay with us. We’ll be back in 30 seconds to talk about this 57th anniversary of the Malcolm X assassination and the call by his family for a new federal probe.

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