Katie Bryant smiled into the winter sunshine outside the Hennepin County courthouse Thursday, relief on her face after a jury had just convicted a police officer of two counts of manslaughter for shooting and killing her son.
"Today we have gotten accountability. That's what we've been asking for from the beginning," she said to a crowd that had gathered on a snow-patched courthouse lawn to hear the verdict in downtown Minneapolis. "Today Minnesota has shown that police officers are not going to continue to pull their gun instead of their Taser."
Former Brooklyn Center officer Kimberly Potter, a 26-year police veteran, was found guilty of both first- and second-degree manslaughter for the shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April. Potter had said it was an accident and she had meant to user her Taser. She became the third officer in Minnesota to be convicted of killing a civilian while on the job.
A line of deputies stood just inside the courthouse building, surveying the scene through windows as the crowd of more than 50 people gathered after waiting almost four days for the trial's conclusion.
Wright's brother, Damik Bryant, threw his head back and yelled "Yes!" when he heard the word "guilty" over a live-streamed video on a phone held up to his ear. The crowd enveloped him in a hug amid a crush of reporters and cameras.
"We are happy with the verdict," he said. "This is a new life for everybody, not just for us but for everybody here. Change is coming."
The case was highly charged with racial overtones, a white officer killing a young Black man. It comes on the heels of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin's murder conviction for kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd in May 2020, setting off protests and renewed calls to confront racism around the world.
An attorney representing the family of Wright, who was killed in a traffic stop while Chauvin was on trial, echoed sentiments from activists saying they hoped the verdict was a sign of a transformation in racial justice and police accountability.
"The days of killing our unarmed Black brothers and sisters in Minnesota are over. Law enforcement cannot do it with impunity. We've now had not one, but two juries tell us that," said attorney Jeff Storms. "The family is so beyond grateful for the prosecution and for the support of everyone else that's here today."
Wright's father, Arbuey Wright, described "a lot of nights where we thought we couldn't make it" but said that reading messages from supporters helped. "I want to say thanks for the love and support that you guys are showing us," he said. "We really appreciate it."
Others around the Twin Cities said they, too, felt relief.
Marcia Howard, one of the main activists at George Floyd Square, the intersection where Floyd died, collapsed to her knees when she heard the verdict.
"The fact that this was more a referendum on the value of a young Black man's life, in comparison to a white woman's future, came down in favor of the value of a life snuffed out unfairly," she said. "As a Black woman, I have to routinely see the lives of my brothers and sisters and uncles and children being weighed and measured and found lacking, that they're not worth avenging. Today, Minneapolis shows the world that Black lives indeed matter."
Johnathon McClellan, president of the Minnesota Justice Coalition, said in an interview that a message was sent to law enforcement "that you will be held to account for your actions."
But, he said, more has to be done, including passing legislation to take away the tax-funded portion of a pension for any police officer found guilty of committing a felony while on duty. A bill has been written and is scheduled to be introduced in the next legislative session, McClellan said.
While Wright's family and activists rejoiced Thursday, some former law enforcement officers watching the case were disappointed.
"There is a difference between being wrong and criminally wrong," said Al Berryman, former president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, adding that he was surprised by the verdicts. "Look at what she did. She should be held civilly responsible, but not criminally. None of this would have happened if [Daunte Wright] complied with the arrest, which is common with most of these things."
John Locke, a retired Minneapolis police sergeant who was an instructor in defensive tactics for 25 years said he was "in a state of shock. It was obviously a hard-to-believe accident. There is no intent to hurt somebody or kill somebody. She made a mistake."
But Kelly McCarthy, Mendota Heights police chief and chair of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, which licenses police officers in Minnesota, said she was still thinking about Wright's family gathering for a first Christmas without him. "I am heartbroken about the years to come when Daunte's mother sees something or hears something she wants to tell her son about and goes to pick up the phone and remembers he's not there," McCarthy said. "We need to do everything we can so no other family has to deal with that. What we do matters, and mistakes have consequences."
Former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza said the jury made the correct decision. "What is manslaughter?" he asked. "It's a mistake. She [Potter] said, 'I didn't mean to kill him; it's an accident.' She basically pleaded guilty. There was nowhere else [for the jury] to go."
At Brooklyn Center City Hall, Mayor Mike Elliott called the verdict "an important moment for accountability, but no verdict can deliver true justice to Daunte Wright, his family and his loved ones ... We must all fully commit ourselves to creating a city where everyone can thrive, where everyone is safe from police violence."
Elliott and city leaders hope that will come from the city's $1.3 million alternative public safety plan, which aims for having fewer armed officers and using unarmed civilians for mental health calls and nonmoving traffic violations. That plan was approved unanimously by the city council earlier this month. Next steps include appointing members to devise an implementation plan, the mayor said.
Tension had been building in Brooklyn Center and across the Twin Cities, especially after jurors started deliberating Monday and, at one point this week, asked a question about what would happen if they couldn't reach an agreement.
After the jury delivered its decision just before the Christmas holiday, the mood quickly lifted outside the courthouse, where a small band played "When the Saints Go Marching In" and some in the crowd danced. About 20 then marched through the streets in celebration.
After the crowds dispersed, some observers reflected on the larger implications of the trial's outcome.
University of Minnesota Professor of African American and African Studies August Nimtz called the verdict "the strongest evidence yet about the profound attitudinal changes about race that have taken place in America." An all-white jury refused to convict police in Rodney King's beating three decades ago, he pointed out in a statement. And while Potter's case may have been difficult to decide, he said, "in the end, the jury, almost exclusively white, did the right thing. A historic moment."