Photo: Brooklyn Center Police Department
Below is my column in The Hill on the Wright Shooting and the Continuing Detrimental Testimony from Political Figures. The shooting appears to be a random case of “gun confusion” that we discussed earlier on this blog. However, politicians have declared the shooting to be a premeditated racist act as civil unrest continues.
Here is the column:
Minnesota is again wavering from an all-too-familiar pattern of police shooting leading to protests and riots. The filming of Daunte Wright on Sunday at the Brooklyn Center was a horror that was shown in a continuous slow motion loop on every news channel. Much unknown is known about this apparently pointless killing. Finding these answers requires trust and loyalty in the legal system, which is based on fairness and due process. However, many political leaders have again ruled that due process is an obligation.
When Curt Boganey, City Manager of the Brooklyn Center, said that a full investigation would be conducted and due process given to all of the suspected officials, he was fired. Shortly after the shooting, and before any underlying facts were established, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz denounced “Another Life of a Law Enforcement Black” and linked it to the trial of Derek Chauvin, a police officer that went several miles took place away.
A due process is not a dirty word or a dog whistle. Boganey tried to do what Walz didn’t want to do and to respect the rule of law. When reporter asked Boganey if he would fire the officers involved in the shooting, he said, “If I answered that question, I would disagree with what I said earlier, that all employees are entitled to due process and through due process, discipline is established. If I were to say anything else, I would be contradicting the idea of due process. “Officials demonstrated this contradiction, which he feared, by firing him.
It’s possible that the shooting was accidental. In the video, the officer can be heard screaming “Taser, Taser, Taser” before she swears and says, “Holy S ** t, I just shot him.” We have seen many cases of officers mistaking tasers for service weapons in combat. Design and training changes were made to address these tragedies. The shape and color of the tasers have been changed to reduce “weapon confusion” incidents. Although some departments have experimented with different tasers, most still believe that taser shaped tasers offer the best tactical use. They have tried exercising, belt placement, and other means to avoid weapon confusion.
However, in dangerous encounters with adrenaline, errors still occur in fractions of a second. One of the most notorious cases of gun confusion occurred in 2009. Oscar Grant was on the prone position when Johannes Mehserle, Rapid Transit officer in the Bay Area, told his colleagues he was going to berate him. Mehserle then shot Grant in the back with his service weapon and was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Gun confusion research often discusses the work of psychologist Alphonse Chapanis, who was called upon by the military to address the problem of pilots pulling their landing gear back after their bombers land. Although the pilots were brought to justice for the mistake, he found that the levers for the landing gear and flaps were not only identical, but were also located nearby. The shooting of Grant marks the same problem. The video showed Mehserle moving his thumb over his gun. His service weapon had no thumb safety device, but his taser did. This was evidence that Mehserle believed he pulled the taser before firing the fatal round.
These gun confusion cases are all tragic and affect all races and genders. In many cases the use of the tasers would have been deemed appropriate. The same may be true of the incident with Wright, who resisted arrest and tried to escape. Most jurisdictions would find the use of a taser justified, although it would be dangerous in a situation with someone driving a vehicle or who might be considered excessive during a minor traffic obstruction.
That brings us back to the right process. We don’t yet know if the use of a taser can be considered reasonable or if gun confusion was associated with the Brooklyn Center. Police Chief Tim Gannon denied news reports that Wright was stopped because too many air fresheners were hanging on his rearview mirror. Gannon insisted the stop was based on expired license plates, but concerns remain about the possibility of racial profiling.
The effects were felt in Minneapolis as well. Some of us raised concerns about the court’s decision to try Chauvin in the same city where George Floyd was killed and rioting raged. Troubles broke out today following the renewed death of an African American in dubious circumstances and the trial judge has refused to protect the jury from adverse coverage of the Brooklyn Center shooting event.
The political leaders in Minneapolis have acted in ways that could undermine the chauvin process. They labeled Floyd’s death a murder and awarded his family a national record $ 27 million bill. Rather than waiting for a verdict, the city almost derailed the process with potentially adverse news about the settlement. Furthermore, the comments that Walz made about chauvin were considered so detrimental that nine police groups asked him not to speak about the trial.
Now, with the shooting of Wright, politicians are throwing off their restraint again. Representative Rashida Tlaib said this was “not an accident” and described the “policing in our country” as “deliberately racist” and “state-funded murder”. Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said, “It is a difficult time because we are still mourning George Floyd and we are still awaiting justice for George Floyd.” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey denounced the “cruelty” of a “firing officer” while we are deciding on another trial. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez MP said on Twitter that this was “not a random, incoherent” accident “- it is the repeated result of an unacceptable system that grants impunity for state violence. “
Boganey shows that defending due process in these times is a precarious decision that few politicians are willing to make. The contradictions he wanted to avoid are the collective calls from those in power. Unfortunately, disregard of due process in these tragedies can define us exactly as it defined us before. We can mourn such losses and demand answers without assuming fact or prejudice.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.