The Sentencing of Derek Chauvin, and What Comes Next
Updated: Jan 13, 2022
Following the death of George Floyd, supporters in Minneapolis of the BLM and Justice for George Floyd movements have created memorials and continued to march throughout the Chauvin trial. (Fibonacci Blue/Flickr)
Derek Chauvin, a former officer at the Minneapolis Police Department, was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison on June 25. Under Minnesota law, he will have to serve two-thirds of his sentence — 15 years — to be eligible for supervised release for the remaining seven and a half years. According to Minnesota Public Radio, Chauvin “is the first white officer in Minnesota to face prison time for the killing of a Black man.” Although this appears to be a victory for progressives, Chauvin’s sentencing has been met with mixed feelings.
Chauvin’s sentence exceeds the Minnesota guideline range of 10 years and eight months to 15 years, with Judge Peter Cahill citing a need to “acknowledge the deep and tremendous pain…of the (involved) families.” Floyd family attorney Ben Crump seemed satisfied with the results of the trial, which began in May 2020; he called it a “step closer to healing.”
Attorney Ben Crump, a nationally recognized civil rights and personal injury lawyer, represented the Floyd family in the Derek Chauvin trial. (Chad Davis/Flickr)
However, others were unimpressed by Chauvin’s sentencing, the 22 and a half years falling short of the 30 year sentence originally sought by prosecutors. From outside the court complex, some who pushed for a harsher penalty reportedly called out profanities in disbelief after watching the sentencing on their phones. Given that the murder of George Floyd sparked the national growth of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, it’s understandable that longtime advocates for retributive justice for Floyd hoped for a weighty sentence to set a precedent for police brutality cases.
Nonetheless, despite not meeting some people’s expectations, Derek Chauvin’s trial is monumental for racial justice advocates. According to NPR, law enforcement officers in the U.S. killed 1,099 people in 2019, but only a small number of officers were charged with crimes, with murder charges occurring very rarely. BLM proponents argue that this disparity indicates a trend of police brutality ― though it is unclear how many officers were justified, e.g. in the case of necessary self-defense. Nevertheless, for supporters of racial justice, Derek Chauvin being held accountable for George Floyd’s death represents a drastic change in attitudes toward police brutality.
Although Derek Chauvin was not sentenced to the 30 years prosecutors desired, BLM advocates are pleased that the legal system is being changed to ensure that crimes such as Chauvin’s don’t escape punishment. According to Intelligencer, Vice President Kamala Harris, along with Senator Cory Booker and Representative Karen Bass, introduced the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act last summer. The bill encompasses policies regulating law enforcement practices as well as a national registry — called the National Police Misconduct Registry — to “compile data on complaints records of police misconduct.” Both the President and Vice President have voiced their support for the bill throughout Chauvin’s trial.
Also scheduled to take place after Chauvin’s trial are investigations into the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) and the state trial of the other three officers on the scene during Floyd’s arrest. The Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, are jointly conducting the investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. According to the Department of Justice, the investigation will assess all types of force used by MPD officers, and whether the MPD engages in discriminatory policing. Furthermore, the Department of Justice will thoroughly examine the MPD’s policies, training, and supervision.
The state trial of the other three officers on the scene during Floyd’s arrest is set to occur in March 2022. The three men — Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao — are charged with “aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter” as stated by the Star Tribune. Keung and Lane were both rookies in their first week when Floyd was killed by Chauvin; however, Thao was Chauvin’s partner on that day, and held bystanders at bay while Chauvin held his knee on Floyd. Since the three defendants and their lawyers have witnessed the case in its entirety, many expect that obtaining convictions for them will prove more difficult ― only time will tell.
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