Chauvin sentence points to all that remains undone

Chris Juhn/MSR NewsPho Protesters march through the streets of Minneapolis following the Chauvin sentencing. The goal of the protest was to raise awareness of the other three officers that are going to trial in the killing of George Floyd.

News Analysis

Three more cops to convict; past cases need reopening

 “[Derek Chauvin] treated Mr. Floyd without respect and denied him the dignity owed to all human beings and which he certainly would have extended to a friend or neighbor.” In that statement Judge Pete Cahill, pronouncing sentencing upon former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, captured the history of American race relations.

For too long the U.S. policing system has not afforded Black people or any other people who are not considered White the dignity, respect or common decency owed them as fellow human beings. In fact, in the history of policing and police misconduct this is one of the rare occasions in which a White man has been convicted of killing a Black man. And while Chauvin’s sentence was longer than some anticipated, it did not seem like enough.

Try as they might to make Chauvin an aberration and sacrificial lamb whose punishment indicates that race relations have improved and more police convictions for murdering Black folks are on the horizon, most people know better. Their attempts to make it appear that this rare prosecution and even rarer conviction and long sentence is proof that the system works is not backed up by the facts, or by a broader sample.

It’s estimated that law enforcement kills about 1,000 people each year, with Black folks disproportionately represented in those numbers. Chauvin’s conviction was an exception. The overwhelming majority of these cases are not prosecuted. According to research conducted by Bowling Green University, only 11 cops have been convicted of murder for on-duty killings since 2005.

This is only the second time that the State of Minnesota has convicted a police officer for the murder of a human being. In a country founded on White Supremacy and organized by White Settlers for White people in which Black people are an oppressed nationality, a caste, or a colony depending on one’s politics, a White man being convicted and sentenced for killing a Black man is an exception and a reason to take notice.

Photo by KingDemetrius Pendleton A march through downtown Minneapolis post-Chauvin sentencing

Activists demand more justice

 “One down, three to go,” was the consensus of those who took to the downtown Minneapolis streets on Friday after the sentencing announcement and later that evening in an effort to remind people that the struggle against police violence continues.

The chant was a reminder that there were three more cops involved in the murder of George Floyd and that justice, in this case, will not be had until they too are convicted and sentenced. Marchers also demanded that all past cases of police violence be reopened.

Toshira Garraway, of the group Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, in a press conference held immediately after the sentencing called on the public to lift up the other families in Minnesota that have suffered the same loss as Floyd’s family, but whose cases never went to court.

Garraway said that Chauvin was convicted and sentenced because “the system could not cover it up” as they have done in so many other cases of police violence in the country. “We are very thankful for the crumbs that they did give us today when holding this officer accountable.” She said George Floyd represents the countless other murders by law enforcement that have been covered up.

 “We must stay diligent out here in these streets because no one is going to give us anything,” said Jacob Blake Sr., the father of Jacob Blake Jr., who was shot in the back and paralyzed by Kenosha, Wisconsin police after walking away from police trying to take him into custody. “And if we sit down and rest, they’ll take what we have achieved,”

Floyd’s girlfriend Courtney Ross took a conciliatory tone: “I do not hate you, Mr. Chauvin. I am working on forgiving you because I know that’s what George would have wanted me to do. My prayer is that you use this time to change, change your heart and change your mindset.”

Photo by KingDemetrius Pendleton Philonise Floyd speaks to the press after Chauvin’s sentence

Buildup to anticlimax

The sentencing of Chauvin to 22½ years was anti-climactic considering all of the angst and effort that accompanied his prosecution and conviction for a crime which for many he obviously committed. Many Black folks had little confidence that he would be convicted despite there being several People of Color and Blacks on the jury. And while liberals in the U.S. and developed countries abroad insist that his conviction means change has occurred in U.S. policing, there seems to be a consensus among activists and others that there is no evidence anywhere to suggest that this is true.

The sentence met with muted celebrations by others in the community as they realized that while Chauvin was punished. he likely deserved 30 years. It was also chilled by the fact that so many cases of police violence have gone unresolved and the perpetrators in many cases are still in uniform.

“We shared this one moment in time where we felt as if a Black person’s life was deemed worthy to be avenged in the maximum way,” said Marcia Howard, one of the many organizers responsible for holding and maintaining George Floyd Square.

No one yet knows what this conviction means, though it’s the first time a White cop has been convicted of killing a Black man in Minnesota. Many in the mainstream media couch police violence in racial terms, but it is not clear what this conviction will do for race relations going forward.

U.S. politicians’ self-congratulatory response to Chauvin’s sentencing was reminiscent of a Chris Rock monologue when he pointed out that people were making a big deal about being good fathers when that is what you are supposed to do. After all, the U.S. is purported to be a democracy that recognizes the rule of law. The Constitution not only guarantees the right to life but declares that all are innocent until proven guilty.

Attorneys for both sides politicized the already political sentencing event by insisting that this case was not an indictment of law enforcement, especially of the Minneapolis Police Department, which was painted as an exemplary force by the prosecution in a continued attempt to paint Chauvin as an aberration.

But here’s the ugly truth of the matter: Chauvin’s bad behavior was well known and had to be well known by Department leadership, yet he was promoted to a supervisory role. This clearly says that he was not the exception but an accepted part of the MPD’s rules of the game. The prosecution’s attempt to paint a pretty picture of the MPD flies in the face of yet another truth: The institution is currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

“Black and Brown people are still experiencing the weight of White Supremacist ideologies and racist knees,” said Angela Rose Myers, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, in an MSR interview. “The punishment of an individual does not end nor lessen the weight of the systemic knee. We need systemic police policy change.”

Effect on future misconduct

Hennepin County Deputy Sheriff Dave Hutchinson pointed out that the conviction of Chauvin and his sentencing to prison “sends a strong message that no one is above the law.” However, that remains to be seen, as one of Hutchinson’s deputies along with a Ramsey County Sheriff recently shot and killed Winston “Boogie” Smith during a U.S. Marshals Task Force operation. Not only have their names not been released, but there has also been no real evidence presented besides the word of law enforcement that they had a legitimate reason to shoot Smith. The passenger in the car with Smith has said she at no time saw a weapon in the car or Smith in possession of one.

Has anything changed? “How long before we’ll be right back here fighting for justice for another victim of police?” asked Jonathon McClellan of the Minnesota Justice Coalition during the press conference. “They [police] have a pattern: murder, lie, stall, attack the reputation of the victim, cover-up and repeat.”

McClellan asked that people not forget the other families victimized by police violence who, he said, “can only dream of a trial.”