United States
Misc 28/06/2021

Twenty-two and a half years in prison for ex-cop who murdered George Floyd

Derek Chauvin offered his "condolences" to the African-American's relatives

3 min
People in concentration as they listen to the sentencing of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin

WashingtonTwenty-two and a half years in prison for Derek Chauvin. That's the sentence the ex-cop who choked George Floyd with his knee on May 25th, 2020, received last night in Minneapolis. Ten years longer than Minnesota state guidelines for second-degree murder convictions with no prior criminal history, as Chauvin's case is. Judge Peter Cahill argued that aggravating factors in the case, such as the abuse of power and "special cruelty" he said Chauvin showed, justified the decision. Floyd's agony, videotaped by a passerby, sparked the largest protests against institutional racism in decades.

The sentence falls short of the 30 years requested by the prosecution and the 40 years, the maximum allowed by law, advocated by the victim's family. In a memorandum to the judge, Derek Chauvin's lawyer asked for his client's parole, arguing that he was not aware that he was committing a crime. Chauvin, who is 45 years old, could be released on parole for good behavior after serving two-thirds of his sentence. That is, after 15 years.

Derek Chauvin, the murderer of George Floyd.

Before Judge Cahill read out his decision - which he said he made based on the facts and not on public opinion - Derek Chauvin himself addressed George Floyd's family for the first time to offer "condolences" for his death. Without giving details, Chauvin added that "interesting information" would be known in the future and wished the Floyd family "peace of mind". A brief, terse speech that was preceded by several testimonies, including that of his mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, who spoke publicly for the first time since the incident. Pawlenty defended her son's innocence and described him as a "good man", a person with a "big heart".

By contrast, the Floyd family used their turn to argue for the need for the higher sentence. Emotionally, Terrence Floyd, one of the deceased's brothers, turned to Chauvin to try to understand his motives. "What were you thinking, what was going through your head when you had your knee on my brother's neck?" he asked, visibly stricken. Philonise Floyd, another of the brothers, said her family had received "a life sentence" in never being able to count on George Floyd again.

The three police officers who acted with Derek Chauvin are still awaiting trial, scheduled for August, and the four, in turn, face federal charges of violating the civil rights of the African-American, including denial of medical care and excessive use of force on the victim. In cases where the civil rights violation results in the death of the victim, as was the case with George Floyd, the defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison or even the death penalty. Chauvin is charged not only for Floyd's death, but also for a 2017 episode with a teenager whom he beat and also placed his knees on his neck while the victim was already in handcuffs.

One of the hopes of civil rights activists is that Chauvin's conviction will set a precedent for the future and break the inertia of decades of police impunity. Since 2005, eleven officers have been convicted of police killings. The most severe sentence was forty years, for seven in the case of the lowest. The average, according to academic research reported by the New York Times, was 21 years in prison.

Pending police reform

The Derek Chauvin case is closed but federal police reform is still pending. Republicans and Democrats continue to disagree on the fundamentals. And meanwhile, the deadlines that promoters and negotiators have been imposing on each other are being exceeded without success. First, the one that President Joe Biden wanted, who begged Congress to sign the police reform bill on May 25th, on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's assassination. Second, the one self-imposed by the negotiators themselves, who set June as the month for resolving differences. Two bills are on the table. The Democratic one bears George Floyd's name. The Republican one is written by Senator Tim Scott, the only black senator in the conservative caucus. The first proposes sweeping police reform and includes an end to "qualified immunity", a legal doctrine that protects officers from civil lawsuits.

The degree of legal protection for police officers remains the main sticking point between the two parties. Democrats have gone so far as to relax their position on officer immunity, as long as it is possible to petition their police departments. According to Republican Senator Josh Hawley, his party's interest in this option is lower as negotiations progress. The conservative minority leader in the upper house, Mitch McConnell, attacked Democrats on Thursday, accusing them of "federalising and defunding the police".