A reckoning for race, justice, and policing
Derek Chauvin, now known as inmate #261557, is waking up each day in the Minnesota state prison at Oak Park Heights after being found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd. The former Minneapolis police officer is in solitary confinement, to protect him from harm from other inmates, as he awaits final sentencing on June 16 at 1:30 p.m. by judge Peter Cahill, who oversaw the trial.
While Chauvin gets one hour each day outside of his cell for exercise, the country can only hope that he spends a majority of the other 23 hours left in his day pondering what would have happened if he had only been willing to get off Floyd’s neck that awful day. What would be happening right now if he had looked inside and found his humanity for his fellow man instead of finding and acting on the worst part of himself; the part which resulted in inhuman treatment and the death of George Floyd before the world.
Though we heard cheering after the verdict was read among those in the George Floyd Square in Minneapolis and other communities across the country, no one was celebrating. What we saw and heard was the country and the world collectively exhaling as they took in a new breath of air that suggested that justice can prevail in the face of evil. What we witnessed was emotional exhaustion of a country holding on as it teetered on the edge of a cliff. Each new police shooting forces us to reconfigure our grip as we continue to hold on to what America is supposed to be for all of us, blacks and whites.
As the days tick by, we wonder what Chauvin must be thinking and suspect that among his thoughts are how long his final sentence will be – some have suggested the possibility of 40 years in prison. We wonder if Chauvin is thinking about the 10 and a half hours of deliberation among a jury of his peers that found him guilty? Or is he thinking about the 17-year-old who filmed the incident or her 9-year-old cousin who told the jury that she told Chauvin to “get off of him.” If none of those thoughts have kept him up each night, maybe he has finally found his humanity and is thinking about the 9 and a half minutes he knelt on George Floyd’s neck? Because Chauvin’s crimes occurred in front of a minor, Prosecutors may ask the judge to sentence Chauvin to a longer period, which some say is appropriate.
The horrific images seen repeatedly for nearly a year of Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s neck is now replaced with the imagery of Chauvin being led out in handcuffs or his mug shot in his orange jumper. No, no one is celebrating this tragedy as his conviction does not bring George Floyd back to his family. Many have expressed hope that the verdict will change the way police interact with people of color, but the headlines after the verdict indicating more police shootings suggests that we have not reached that pinnacle yet, but we continue to push forward.
Chauvin was convicted on all three counts against him: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, but under Minnesota law he will only be sentenced on the most serious crime, which is the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. Experts following this case do not believe he will get that much time, saying the maximum he would face is 30 years, but he could get less time. As the clock ticks by over the next few weeks, Chauvin also awaits the knock on his jail cell from the Justice Department who some believe will pursue civil rights violation claims against him.
Former Minneapolis police officers Tou Thao, Thomas Kiernan Lane, and J. Alexander Kueng ,who stood by and watched Chauvin end Floyd’s life, await their trial. The three face charges of aiding and abetting on two of Chauvin’s charges. The state’s Attorney General’s office will try to add a third-degree murder charge against the trio during a Minnesota Court of Appeals hearing scheduled for May 20.
Thao, Lane and Kueng are currently scheduled to face trial in August. Many have suggested that they may turn on each other now that Chauvin has been convicted or seek a plea deal with the Prosecutors. If convicted, the former officers could face more than 16 years in prison.