What justice for Daunte Wright requires

Minnesotans have kind hearts and good intentions. But if kind hearts and good intentions were enough, Daunte Wright would be alive today.

What justice for Daunte Wright requires
A sign that reads ”Justice For Daunte Wright,” along with offerings of flowers, at George Floyd Square on April 21, 2021. Photo: Lorie Shaull, Wikimedia Commons.

Prosecutors are the most powerful people in the American criminal legal system. When Officer Kim Potter murdered Daunte Wright, my friend and hero Lena K. Gardner and I wrote this article for the Sahan Journal to explain why only a prosecutor answerable to Daunte Wright’s community could pursue justice on our behalf. On May 21, Governor Tim Walz bowed to public pressure and did as we asked.

Minnesotans have kind hearts and good intentions. But if kind hearts and good intentions were enough, Daunte Wright would be alive today. 

The horrific killing by Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter is the latest agonizing proof that Black lives will never matter in Minnesota without sustained, committed action from all Minnesotans – especially the 80 percent of us who are protected, simply by the color of our white skin, from the violence of the police.

Today, we are calling on all Minnesotans to take a single action: Demand that Governor Tim Walz turn over the prosecution of Kim Potter to Attorney General Keith Ellison, whom the people of Minnesota elected to prosecute crimes against the people of our state. 

No other attorney in Minnesota is appropriate.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman is, by his own startling admissionincapable of credibly prosecuting a police officer in his own county. 

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, who has been donating his legal services to the Minnesota Association of Chiefs of Police for the past three decades, is in no way accountable to the voters of Hennepin County, where the Brooklyn Center community grieves through tear gas. (Orput is also credibly accused of cartoonish unprofessionalism, including public comments about “thugs” who “deserve to be put in cages.”

With Freeman passing the buck, no other attorney in Minnesota but the attorney general l is accountable—at the ballot box—to the people of Brooklyn Center. No other attorney can credibly prosecute the killing of Daunte Wright by Potter. 

But make no mistake: The fact that we must beg the governor of our state to insist on an accountable prosecutor is a staggering indictment of our system of justice. 

A cascade of failure

First, Freeman referred the prosecution to Orput, citing an apparently informal year-old agreement among the five members of the Urban County Attorneys’ Association. On Freeman’s account, he and his fellow county attorneys would refer cases “concerning the police use of deadly force” away from their own jurisdictions to another’s. The rationale? “To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.” 

These county attorneys—all elected by the people of their counties to evaluate police evidence and prosecute felonies—apparently agreed among themselves that none of them could plausibly be understood to be objective in cases when their own county police officers were shown, by their own county police evidence, to have committed felonies. 

We elect Minnesota county attorneys to evaluate the evidence provided to them by police objectively, and then to bring felony charges justified by that evidence — no matter whom that evidence implicates. That is what we elect county attorneys do. If we can’t trust their evaluation of evidence in the case of police misconduct, why should we trust their evaluation of evidence in any case? 

If Minnesota county attorneys cannot interpret evidence from their own police departments and prosecute felonies in their own counties at the same time, then they cannot do their jobs at all. Freeman’s recusal to avoid the “appearance of a conflict of interest” is a classic gaffe: an accidental acknowledgment of an intolerable truth. 

In any case, the Urban County Attorneys’ agreement appears to be more honored in the breach. Mike Freeman was not concerned about “any appearance of a conflict of a conflict of interest” when: 

The fact that the charging of this case has been handed over to someone who volunteers his time defending police is an example of a systemic failure—not a strange aberration that should be excused in this one instance. 

Radical transformation of the ways in which we understand and deploy ideas about public safety must happen. It’s an emergency. Inaction is complicity. And we, all Minnesotans, must help.

Right now, call Governor Walz at 651-201-3400. Demand that Governor Walz turn over the prosecution of Kim Potter’s crime to Attorney General Keith Ellison, the only prosecutor in Minnesota who can credibly seek justice for Daunte Wright. 

You should not have to make this call to beg for fair prosecution, but justice requires it.

The attorney general should not have to take over this case, but accountability requires it.

Daunte Wright should not be dead today, but Officer Kim Potter killed him. 

This is the world we live in, Minnesota. And without your help, things will never change. Call the governor. Please.


Lena K. Gardner, a member of the board of Recall Freeman, is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU). She has been active in the Movement for Black Lives since 2014.


Neil Chudgar, a member of the board of Recall Freeman, is an independent communications consultant in Minneapolis.