• Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

By Andria Y. Carter

Sesh Digital Correspondent

Emotionally, politically and physically 2021 has kept the Black community on edge because of the continual attacks on our civil liberties. The Karen’s and the Ken’s of society has and is making daily life harder because they believe their privilege supersedes those of color. Nationally, these biases have played out in court cases involving police officers and people who believed they acted on behalf of the greater good. The outcomes of their cases have come down to guilty or innocence. Or just not charged for what many believe criminal actions. 

Also, Black men convicted in decades old criminal cases found themselves exonerated and freed from prison. 

For every action there is a reaction. Throughout 2021 several social justice cases involving police officers impacted the Black community. These court cases greatly illustrated the bias actions many Blacks have endured at the hands of police officers and the greater society. These court cases kept our attention hoping justice would prevail or at least teach the greater lesson that certain actions do have certain consequences. 

Here are the top court cases that held our attention in 2021:

KIM POTTER – GULTY

A Minnesota judge will sentence the former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter in March, who a jury convicted on multiple counts of manslaughter in the death of Duante Wright. Potter, who said she mistakenly grabbed her service weapon instead of a stun gun, could face a minimum of 10 years in prison when she’s sentenced.

The maximum sentence for first-degree manslaughter is 15 years and a $30,000 fine, and for second-degree manslaughter, it’s 10 years and a $20,000 fine.

Potter and other Brooklyn Center officers pulled Wright over for expired registration tags and an air freshener on the rearview mirror of his car. Authorities said once they realized that he had outstanding warrants, they attempted to arrest him and allegedly Wright resisted.

When he tried to get back into his car, Potter yelled “Taser,” Taser,” and shot him with her service revolver.

Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge told jurors in her closing argument that the case is “very simple,” it’s about the “reckless handling of a firearm” and “culpable negligence.”

KIm Potter. Photo provided

“You don’t blindly pull your weapon, pull the trigger, without being aware of the risk,” Eldridge asserted.
Civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms, who represent the family of Daunte Wright, said in a statement that the family felt a sense of relief.

“The family of Daunte Wright is relieved that the justice system has provided some measure of accountability for the senseless death of their son, brother, father and friend,” the attorneys wrote in the statement.

MCMICHAEL, MCMICHAEL & BRYAN – GUILTY

A Glynn County, Georgia, jury convicted Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan in February in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery. The three men await sentencing for the felony murder that took place in February 2020. 

The jury found Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery, guilty of all nine charges, including malice murder and four counts of felony murder.

The panel found his father, Gregory, not guilty of malice murder but convicted him on felony murder, unlawful imprisonment, and other charges.

Bryan escaped a guilty verdict on malice murder, but the jury found him guilty of three felony murder counts, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and criminal intent to commit a felony.

The men, who also face federal charges, could spend life in prison when sentenced.

Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan. Photo provided

“The violent stalking and lynching of Ahmaud Arbery was documented on video for the world to witness. Yet, because of the deep cracks, flaws, and biases in our systems, we were left to wonder if we would ever see justice,” attorney Benjamin Crump remarked.

“[The verdict] indicates progress, but we are nowhere close to the finish line. America, you raised your voices for Ahmaud. Now is not the time to let them quiet. Keep marching. Keep fighting for what is right. And never stop running for Ahmaud.”

KYLE RITTENHOUSE – NOT GUILTY

Kyle Rittenhouse escaped punishment in the shooting deaths of two men during the unrest that followed the 2020 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The jury deliberated for about four days, before issuing unanimous verdicts on all counts.

The jury considered five charges against the now 18-year-old: First-degree reckless homicide, use of a dangerous weapon – or that Rittenhouse recklessly caused the death of Rosenbaum under circumstances that showed utter disregard for human life.

First-degree recklessly endangering safety, use of a dangerous weapon – or that Rittenhouse recklessly endangered the safety of Richard McGinniss — a journalist with the conservative Daily Caller — under circumstances that show utter disregard for human life.

First-degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon – or that Rittenhouse did cause the death of Huber, with intent to kill him.

First-degree recklessly endangering safety, use of a dangerous weapon – or that Rittenhouse did recklessly endanger the safety of an unknown male, referred to as “jump kick man” in court, under circumstances that show utter disregard for human life.

Attempted first-degree intentional homicide, use of a weapon – or that Rittenhouse attempted to cause the death of Grosskreutz, with intent to kill him.

DEREK CHAUVIN – GUILTY

Across America the Black community experienced a sense of relief and believed justice prevailed with the conviction of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. The unanimous jury convicted Chauvin of third-degree murder, second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

The judge sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison. This is the longest sentence a police officer had received in Minnesota history. Chauvin also pled guilty to federal charges for the May 2020 murder. 

“Justice was served today for the Floyd family, the State of Minnesota and the nation, it was heartening and I hope instructive to see so many active police officers cross the thin blue line to say that Derek Chauvin did was wrong. I hope that gives courage to other officers to speak out when they see injustice among their ranks,” said Rev. Damon Lynch, pastor of New Prospect Church and community activist.

Community activist Iris Roley said she was grateful that jury saw what the rest of America witnessed during the 9-minutes Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck. “I am happy the Floyd family and  friend don’t have to suffer another day not knowing if that man will be  convicted or not. I am grateful for that,” Roley said.

Derek Chauvin. Photo provided

She noted that Minneapolis Police Department set an example of not surrounding an officer with the “blue wall” when they do wrong. “They stood up against police brutality. They said this is not their training and not what they do. Others need to follow their lead and speak truth to power.”

“This is what they (police departments) need to do. Follow the evidence, follow the truth and understand that Black Lives do matter,” she said.

During Chauvin’s sentencing, Judge Peter Cahill said he based the sentence on law, and not emotion. He kept his remarks brief and encouraged the public to read the 26-page sentencing memorandum.”

Chauvin’s mother Carolyn Pawlenty also provided an impact statement for the Chauvin family. “My son’s identity has been reduced to that of a racist,” she said, as she recounted how proud she was of his history 19 years of police service. She said she always supported him “100%” and “always will,” and that Chauvin’s sentence will also be a sentence for her. Notably, she made no mention of the Floyd family and did not offer condolences for their loss.

In a move that seemed to surprise many pundits, Chauvin provided a brief statement. He said he couldn’t say much due to legal circumstances but gave condolences to the Floyd family. “I want to give my condolences to the Floyd family,” he said. He also gave a cryptic remark about other information coming out in the future that “would be of interest” to the family and offer some “peace of mind.”

MUHAMMAD A. AZIZ & KHALIL ISLAM – EXONERATED

Two of the men found guilty of the assassination of Malcolm X are expected to have their convictions thrown out, the Manhattan district attorney, and lawyers for the two men said, according to the New York Times.
The stunning reversal recasts history and reopens the case of the slaying of Malcolm X, who died in a hail of gunfire at the old Audubon Theater in New York’s Harlem area.

The exoneration of the two men, Muhammad A. Aziz, and Khalil Islam, represents a “remarkable acknowledgment of grave errors made in a case of towering importance: the 1965 murder of one of America’s most influential Black leaders in the fight against racism,” the Times reported.

The newspaper noted that a 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors and two of the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department — had withheld key evidence that, had it been turned over, would likely have led to the men’s acquittal.

The two men, known at the time of the killing as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, spent decades in prison for the murder, which took place on Feb. 21, 1965, when three men opened fire inside a crowded ballroom at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan as Malcolm X was starting to speak.

Earlier this year, the civil rights leader’s daughters formally requested that authorities reopen the murder investigation because of new evidence.

“Any evidence that provides greater insight into the truth behind that terrible tragedy should be thoroughly investigated,” said Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s six daughters.

Shabazz and her family cited a deathbed letter of confession from a man who was a policeman at the time of the 1965 killing, alleging New York police and the FBI conspired in the murder.

GROVELAND FOUR – EXONERATED

A judge in Florida in November finally exonerated the “Groveland Four,” the African American men falsely accused of raping a white teenager in 1949.

Administrative Judge Heidi Davis dismissed the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, both fatally shot not long after the false allegation made by Norma Padget, who was 17 at the time.

Judge Davis then set aside the convictions and sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin.

Carol Greenlee, the daughter of Charles Greenlee, said, “My father was a caring, loving, compassionate person that did not rape anybody.”

The men who became known as the Groveland Four ranged from 16 to 26 at the time.

“We followed the evidence to see where it led us, and it led us to this moment,” state attorney Bill Gladson remarked during the news conference.

Following the 1949 accusation, the Ku Klux set fire to numerous Black neighborhoods in the town of Groveland.

The Klan reportedly shot Thomas more than 400 times, killing him. They beat false confessions out of Greenlee, Irvin, and Shepherd.

An all-white jury convicted the men, but legendary NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall successfully fought for a new trial.

Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot and killed Shepherd, claiming he attempted to escape.

During the retrial, jurors still returned a guilty verdict, but Greenlee and Irvin were given life sentences instead of the death penalty.

Officials granted Irvin his release from the state prison in 1968. He died one year later of a heart attack at age 39.
Charles Greenlee, the last surviving member of the Groveland Four, was released on parole in 1962 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

He died on April 18, 2012, at 78.

Independent investigations determined that all four were innocent, and in 2017, the state issued an apology to their families.

In 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis granted the men pardons, but family members continued their fight to clear their names fully.

OLIVER SIMMONS – NOT CHARGED

A grand jury has ruled that a Virginia Beach Police Officer who shot Donovan Lynch in on March 26 will not face charges.

Lynch was shot to death by Virginia Beach Officer Solomon Simmons. Lynch is a cousin of musician and Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams. Lynch’s death has been under investigation since his shooting.

Lynch’s father recently filed a $50 million lawsuit against Officer Simmons. Simmons is Black. The wrongful death suit is likely to be in court next year if it survives a motion to dismiss filed by the city of Virginia Beach.

Lynch was armed with a gun at the time of the shooting which occurred on a night of violent activity by other individuals at Virginia Beach’s oceanfront.

During a lengthy news conference on November 30, Virginia Beach prosecutors said Officer Simmons was justified in protecting himself after Lynch allegedly cocked his gun and pointed it towards a parking lot.

Officer Simmons’ body camera was turned off during the moments when he shot Lynch. Media reports reveal that there are conflicting witness statements regarding how Donovan Lynch was killed.

Lynch’s funeral earlier this year was attended by Rev. Dr. William Barber and many local politicians. His death re-ignited debate around the policy question of qualified immunity and how liable police officers should be for death and injury they may cause while on duty.

NNPA Newswire contributed to this report.