This past Sunday afternoon, Minneapolis police officers pulled over 20-year-old Duante Wright for a traffic violation. Body-cam video shows that he was taken from the car and one policeman was trying to handcuff him when the young man broke away and jumped back into the driver’s seat of his vehicle. A second officer, Kim Potter, came to her partner’s aid and several times threatened to “tase” him before she fired, as it turned out, not a taser but a handgun. She pulled the trigger once, then seemed to realize with horror that she had put a bullet into Mr. Wright that proved to be fatal.
A cavalcade of no-nothings has been quick to characterize it in a way that fits their pre-existing prejudices. Reasonable people should be able to agree on the following. Police must have the ability to pull motorists over if they are driving with expired license plates. (This was the case with Mr. Wright.) They must have the ability to detain people who have outstanding warrants against them. (This was the case with Mr. Wright.) They must have the ability to use the minimum amount of force necessary to detain suspects. (This was not the case with Mr. Wright.)
Some people have characterized what happened as an accident. Some people have characterized what happened as murder. And there have been calls from both sides of the spectrum that perhaps the issue was inadequate training, putting the onus entirely on the police officer. But the essence of what went wrong seems to have been missed completely. Had Mr. Wright not tried to flee, had Mr. Wright cooperated with the police, he would be alive today.
The following idea is stolen from podcaster and philosopher Sam Harris. People, in particular young people, should be taught how to be arrested. Videos should be prepared that would be required viewing in high schools, universities, and as public service announcements. They would explicitly instruct citizens what they can do to co-operate in their own arrests as fully as possible. All of us should be educated to know that it is legal for police to use reasonable force and that what is “reasonable” varies greatly based on the circumstances. The more you resist, the greater the force that can and will be directed against you.
Kim Potter has just been charged with second-degree murder. I would not be surprised if it is plea-bargained down to involuntary manslaughter. This case seems far more clear-cut than Derek Chauvin’s. But I can’t help but think that if both George Floyd and Duante Wright had allowed themselves to be arrested without struggling, both would be alive today. And isn’t this the outcome that everyone wants?