In major victory, people force “Force in Focus” from Hilton to Heirloom: What’s next?

On April 12, the Citizens Concerned About Police Action Shootings Coalition went public with a phone-zap campaign against the Hilton Indianapolis for hosting a weekend conference featuring Kim Potter, a convicted killer cop who was released from jail less than a year ago after serving 16 months for manslaughter.

Before going public, the Coalition—which formed last year as families of IMPD victims organized with religious, community, and political leaders and organizations, including PSL Indianapolis—was asking, then pressuring, the Hilton to adhere to the values of our community. When the community spoke out, they listened.

Imran S. Ali, Executive Director of LETAC, expressed disappointment over the Hilton’s decision in an email update to attendees. “We learned last Friday that our conference location and hotel at the Hilton in Indianapolis has unilaterally canceled our contract. We are disappointed in their decision. Although we are frustrated with the Hilton for this ill-timed and unfortunate decision we did not feel it appropriate to cancel the event and were able to secure a new location.” The same email stated the event, “Force in Focus: From Conflict to Cooperation” organized by The Law Enforcement Training Academy & Consulting (LETAC), is still scheduled for May 7 – 9 but has moved to the Heirloom Indianapolis.

Despite scrubbing all mentions of Potter from their site, an additional document obtained shows that Potter will indeed still be part of the keynote presentation.

The LETAC describes the 3-day gathering as “a constructive dialogue… to shift the conversation surrounding the use of force in America from conflict to cooperation.” Who better to keynote this move than a racist killer cop?

LETAC initially pitched its keynote session to demonstrate the power of redemption. What the screenshot below demonstrates is something quite different.

Having Potter share the stage with Imran Ali, the Prosecutor who helped convict her demonstrates the underlying unity between different parts of the state. It makes sense Potter and Ali would smile together: Ali helped Potter get the absolute minimum amount of time possible under the circumstances of the trial. Despite their initial promotion, Potter no longer appears on the website either.

The cop who killed Daunte Wright, a young father

Potter, a white Minnesota cop patrolling in a suburb outside of Minneapolis, shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black father, on April 11, 2021. She and her partner, Anthony Luckey (whom she was training at the time) forced Wright to pull over for expired license tabs (not plates) and “a dangling air freshener on his rearview mirror.”

After pulling Wright over for two petty and common motor vehicle violations, Potter shot and killed Wright. The murder was an “accident,” according to the defense and prosecution, because Potter, after 26 years as a cop, allegedly mistook her taser for her handgun.

It is rare to see killer cops receive any sort of repercussions for their actions because of the vital function they serve under the white supremacist and capitalist U.S. system. The spontaneous street protests that erupted after Wright’s murder certainly factored into the conviction. Perhaps a more crucial factor was the timing: when Potter killed Wright in Brooklyn Center, Derek Chauvin was on trial in nearby Minneapolis for the brutal May 2020 lynching of George Floyd.

Kim Potter in focus: Wright’s murder was no accident

Despite the dominant narrative, Wright’s murder was no accident. Whether or not Potter genuinely used her gun thinking it was a taser is of no significance. Wright’s child would still have a father today had Potter and her junior partner not harassed Wright in the first place.

Driving a car with small items hanging from the rear-view mirror such as air fresheners, disability tags, parking permits, and graduation tassels, is not uncommon. Unless one is from a poor or oppressed neighborhood, it is perfectly acceptable to the cops. Wright’s murder exposed the issue on the national level for the deadly and racist functions it serves.

Multiple states explicitly criminalize acts like driving with a disability tag on the rear-view mirror. Still others have vaguely worded laws, like Indiana’s Motor Vehicle Code, which requires that, if a vehicle

“is constructed or loaded so as to obstruct the driver’s view to the rear from the driver’s position [then it] must be equipped with a mirror located so as to reflect to the driver a view of the highway for a distance of at least two hundred (200) feet to the rear of the vehicle.”

Cities, townships, and other local governments have similar and sometimes more explicit laws used for the same purposes.

Daunte Wright’s struggle is our struggle

Last June, the Indianapolis City-County Council passed legislation banning right-on-red turns in Mile Square “to improve pedestrian safety.” Pedestrian safety is a pressing issue, but criminalization does nothing to alleviate or address it.

In an Indianapolis Liberator op-ed, Jeremy Algate put it clearly: “We know the cops will be exempt and it will only provide another excuse for them to pull over, harass, chase, and kill Black and other oppressed nationalities.” Algate gives the example of Jonathan Henderson, who ran over and killed Ashlynn Lisby in his IMPD car.

While driving 78 miles per hour on city roads, Henderson made an illegal lane change and crossed into the shoulder where Lisby was walking. Lisby, who was 23 years old, was eight months pregnant when Henderson killed her. Lisby’s baby, Marcus Lewis III, was born at the hospital only to die moments later.

Despite driving 33 mph over the speed limit, he didn’t face any repercussions. In a 2022 federal appeal, Judge Sarah Evans Barker affirmed the original ruling because, unlike the case cited as precedent “Officer Henderson was not racing through a residential area at speeds tripling the posted speed limit” (emphasis added).

In the last four years, the cops have stolen the lives of dozens more community members, including the 10 people they killed last year and the three people they have killed so far this year. Not a single cop has been held accountable.

If it is really a case of a few bad apples, why is it that the IMPD and Marion County Prosecutor do everything possible to keep them on the force? Actual solutions to address the epidemic of racist police violence in the U.S. are those that are “off-limits” to the ruling-class parties and their media outlets: jail killer cops and defund and disarm the police.

Victories teach and require vigilance

The police and their complex network of organizations and networks of support are among the most difficult state institutions to fight. After all, they are armed to the teeth and never hesitate to pull their triggers to shoot and kill the people whose tax money local, state, and federal government use to provide their militarized (or “sensitivity”) training and weaponry—even their so-called trainings and reforms like bodycams that have only provided more proof the police cannot be reformed.

That the people forced “Force in Focus” out of the Hilton is a remarkable victory made possible by the power of unity and the bravery of the families of IMPD victims like Missy Williams. Like all victories, however major or minor, what really matters is how we use this victory to help people see, understand, and feel the power that we have. Further, like all victories, it is a partial one.

We urge community members and organizations to voice their opposition to holding “Force in Focus” at Heirloom Indianapolis, encouraging them to reconsider their decision to host the conference. Our collective effort is essential in ensuring that our community does not serve as a platform for justifying or diminishing the severity of police violence.

If you want to get involved in the Coalition, contact PSL Indianapolis.

Featured image: A child holding a placard during the protests following the IMPD’s May 6-7, 2020 killing spree. Credit: Indianapolis Liberation Center.