TUESDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2021
The novelization rules: As a general matter, we don't root for people to go to prison.
Above and beyond that general framework, we tend to agree with a pair of letters in today's New York Times. The first letter says this:
To the Editor:
After seeing the videos of the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by Kimberly Potter, I don’t believe that Ms. Potter should have been convicted of any crime. Clearly she made a terrible mistake, and it may seem inexcusable for a 26-year police veteran to mistake her gun for a stun gun. However, the sudden, unexpected, aggressive action by Mr. Wright—at close quarters—can cause an officer, even a veteran, to get fearful.
A suspect in physical contact with an officer who was attempting to handcuff him suddenly breaking free and jumping behind the wheel of his car is not committing a passive and harmless action. Mr. Wright’s sudden action surprised Ms. Potter, who is responsible for her fellow officers’ safety as well as her own. She made a horrible mistake, one that may disqualify her to continue as a police officer, but not one that should make her a convicted criminal.
We tend to agree with that letter. That includes the view it states concerning the role played by Daunte Wright's unfortunate decision to resist and flee arrest.
Even the prosecution agreed that Potter's action wasn't intentional—was a mistake. We haven't understood the logic by which this particular unintentional mistake turned into a crime—by which, for example, it was judged that her disastrously mistaken behavior was judged to have been "reckless."
The second letter expresses a similar view. In our view, its logic ends up wandering a bit far afield at the end:
To the Editor:
Kimberly Potter was convicted of manslaughter for killing Daunte Wright when she mistakenly used a handgun instead of a Taser. In contrast, Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd by compressing his airway, allowing about nine minutes to pass during which he could have reconsidered and potentially saved Mr. Floyd’s life.
Once Ms. Potter fired her handgun, she had no time in which she could have changed course and saved the life of Mr. Wright. Her tragic mistake was irreversible the second that she fired.
In addition, consider the difference in how society reacts to physicians and nurses who make mistakes that result in the death of a patient. Rarely are they arrested and tried for manslaughter. If Ms. Potter is sent to prison, our justice system will have failed to extend the same empathy to police officers that we generally extend to physicians and nurses.
Derek Chauvin's conduct was intentional; Kim Potter's wasn't. That said, Potter will be "sent to prison." Within our tribe, the way this unfortunate event has been viewed is tied to a long-running novelization.
Granting that Potter made a disastrous mistake, what did she do that was "reckless?" We haven't yet seen the logic of that. We have seen the process of novelization as it has unfolded over the past dozen years.
Sadly, our novelizations have tended to run on claims about Skittles and air fresheners, and on claims about "crossing state lines." Increasingly, we're tying ourselves to novelizations which may start to seem like cartoons.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but our tribe has become increasingly dishonest, and The Others can see this about us. Warning:
In matters like these, The Others are routinely exposed to more information than we are.
We've mortgaged our souls for a novel we like, for a novel which lets us perform. At the top of the tribal heap, our silence about this matter is endless. Because the topic is so depressing, we're postponing it until next week.
Your lizard is telling you that we're wrong. Your lizard repeatedly does this.