Judge Regina Chu, where is your sympathy for Daunte Wright?

OPINION: The Hennepin County district judge got emotional as she talked about officers risking their lives every day before handing down a light sentence to former officer Kim Potter. In the process, Chu completely dismissed Wright's humanity.

In this screen grab from video, Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu presides over court Thursday Dec.23, 2021, in the trial of former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn. Jurors on Thursday convicted Potter of two manslaughter charges in the killing of Daunte Wright, a Black motorist she shot during a traffic stop after she said she confused her gun for her Taser. (Court TV, via AP, Pool)

“She never intended to hurt anyone.”

— Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu 

“This is not a cop found guilty of murder who used his knee to [kill a man] for 9 minutes.”

— Judge Chu

Yes, that is literally what the presiding judge said today when she sentenced former Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer Kim Potter to two years in prison in the fatal shooting of unarmed motorist Daunte Wright. Potter, who was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter, will have to serve 16 months, or two-thirds of her sentence, before being eligible for supervised release.

Judge Regina Chu got emotional as she talked about officers risking their lives every single day in public service: “Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically.”

Facts: Potter shot Wright on April 11, 2021 after the 20-year-old was pulled over for expired registration tags and, get this, an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror (which is unlawful in Minnesota). When Potter discovered there was a misdemeanor warrant out for Wright’s arrest, she tried to detain him. Based on the ex-officer’s own bodycam footage, Wright can be seen trying to get back into his car, and after a scuffle, Potter can be heard shouting, “Taser!” She instead pointed her gun at Wright and fatally shot him. 

Worst of all, this incident sparked renewed protesting in Minnesota as the state was still reeling from George Floyd’s horrific death just a year earlier. For me and many others, however, Judge Chu’s light sentence and her tear-dripping plea—using as an excuse the fact that Potter accidentally grabbed her gun instead of her taser—is bogus. Chu even invoked former President Barack Obama as she read her sentence out loud:

“President Barack Obama once said, ‘Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes — to see through their eyes — that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen.’ Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.”

Full STOP. Wait a minute here. I have a very serious question as a Black woman: How does the white female officer who shot to death an unarmed young Black male motorist get sympathy in this case? If this is not the perfect example of why NFL star Colin Kaepernick kneeled, then nothing is. 

It also reminds me of another case, young Botham Jean, who was asleep in his own apartment before he was shot to death by a white female police officer entering the wrong apartment. When Amber Guyger, the now-former officer, was sentenced to 10 years for murder, the presiding judge, Tammy Kemp, got up and hugged her and gave her a Bible. What is going on with our female judges?! You are not there to show sympathy and empathy to convicted killers. You are there to mete out justice, blindly and fairly. The end. 

In response to the “slap on the wrist” sentence (as seen through the eyes of Daunte’s father, Arbuey), Daunte’s mother, Katie Wright, who is white, said: “Today the justice system murdered [Daunte] all over again…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 women tears trumps—trumps—justice. And I thought my white woman tears would be good enough because they’re true and genuine.”

In the final analysis, the real issue is that the sentencing guidelines need work. Case in point: State sentencing guidelines suggested that Potter receive six to eight-and-half years in prison after being found guilty of first- and second-degree manslaughter in connection to Wright’s death. The attorney general of Minnesota, Keith Ellison, recommended 86 months, or about seven years, in a memo to the court. Wright’s family sought the maximum sentence. Yet, here is where we ended up today: two years. 

I think the key takeaway is that Black lives really do not matter, and white women’s tears matter most of all. 

Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”

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