By Abby Ramirez
On April 20, the jury of the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin concluded that former officer Derek Chauvin was guilty of unintentional second degree murder, third degree murder, and second degree manslaughter. This required the jurors to agree that he unintentionally caused George Floyd’s death while committing or attempting to commit assault; he unintentionally caused George Floyd’s death with reckless disregard to human life; and that he knowingly acted in a way that could possibly harm or kill George Floyd.
While all three charges amount to 75 years in prison, Chauvin could possibly be sentenced to less time as Minnesota law states that those with no criminal record who are found guilty of second or third degree murder serve only 12 and a half years. In the same vein, those with no criminal record who are found guilty of second degree manslaughter serve up to four years.
Prosecutors are expected to push for “upward departure,” or a sentence that is greater than the applicable guideline range or sentence, by asking the judge to consider the other “aggravating factors” that were involved in Floyd’s death. These include that he was treated with “unreasonable cruelty” and murdered in front of children.
Although many laud the jury’s verdict and future sentencing as justice for Floyd, instead this is accountability for committing murder. True justice is only achievable when racism and white supremacy are eradicated in America, as the system that allowed for Floyd’s murder still stands.
Even the Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison encouraged the nation to continue the fight for justice.
“I would not call today’s verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step toward justice,” Ellison said in a press conference.
While many assumed Chauvin would be found guilty for the murder of Floyd, centuries worth of a lack of accountability left room for doubt, even after the uproar in cities across the country. Police officers are prosecuted for murder in less than two percent of fatal shootings, according to data from Philip Matthew Stintson, a criminal justice expert at Bowling Green State University.
For example, on July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a 43 year old African American man, was wrestled to the ground and put in a choke hold for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. After telling the policemen “I can’t breathe” 11 times, he died. The Staten Island grand jury declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the policeman who committed the murder, of any crime.
Later that year, on November 22, Tamir Rice, a 12 year old African American boy, was fatally shot at a bus station after a person reported that there was a “man” pointing a gun, which he explained “was probably fake,” at people at a bus stop. It was only after Officer Timothy Loehmann killed him that they realized the gun was a toy. Even after Loehmann was fired for lying on his job application form, the U.S. Department of Justice stated they would not hold any federal charges against him or Frank Garmback, his partner, because the video recording did not provide concrete evidence.
After Louisville officer Joshua Jayne filed for a “no-knock” search warrant for the home of Breonna Taylor, a 26 year old African American woman, to investigate Jamarcus Glover, Taylor’s ex-boyfriend and alleged drug trafficker, Officers Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison, and Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly shot more than 25 bullets into Taylor’s house, with some bullets straying out to other apartments nearby. Taylor had been fatally shot eight times. Even though one officer was charged for first-degree wanton endangerment of her neighbors, no officers involved were charged for Taylor’s murder.
Just ten days later, Daniel Prude, a 41 year old African American man, died of asphyxiation, or lack of oxygen, while being handcuffed and pinned down to the ground with a mesh hood over his head in the midst of a mental health crisis. A New York Grand Jury voted not to file any charges against any of the officers in February of this year.
Although all four of these murders occurred on different dates, they all have two things in common: the unjust death of an African American and the justification of at least second degree murder committed by white policemen by the justice department. Had these policemen, along with countless others, been held accountable for their actions, Chauvin’s imprisonment may have been true justice. However, that is not the case.
True justice must be consistent. Law enforcement officers across the country must constantly be held accountable for unjust murders. They must constantly be held accountable for continuing to harm those in custody. Those guilty of third degree murder must be indicted and investigated, no matter their job or color of skin. Accountability needs to be better enmeshed within the police departments themselves as well.
In the last year, the Washington Post study reports that law enforcement officers across the country have collectively shot and killed a total of 988 Americans. They also found that although they only make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans are shot and at more than twice the rate of white Americans, with Latinos also being murdered at a disproportionate rate.
“We often want to deal with symptoms and not deal with the actual virus, and it’s a racially inflicted virus that is harming this country, that we have to face as a nation,” Reverend Otis Moss III told the Washington Post.
Just in the last month, two people of color have been fatally shot by law enforcement. On March 29, Adam Toledo, a 13 year old Latino from Chicago, was fatally shot with his hands up by Officer Eric Stillman. As caught by Stillman’s body cam, Toledo had tossed what might have been a handgun over a fence while being chased down the alley shortly before being murdered. On April 11, Daunte Wright, a 20 year old African American, was fatally shot after being pulled over for expired registration tags and the patrol officers learning he had a warrant out for his arrest. Believing she had pulled out her taser, Officer Kimberly Potter took out her handgun and killed Wright.
The correlation between police shootings and race is unequivocally clear.
Although Chauvin being convicted of all the counts held against him was a step in the right direction towards enforcing accountability among police officers, America is still far from achieving true justice for the centuries of injustice committed against African Americans. For there to be true justice, no one should be able to walk free after shooting an innocent child or shooting into a house before knowing if there was an actual threat. They must never be able to walk free after proceeding to kill people after knowing that they were struggling to breathe.
Policies that always hold law enforcement officers accountable for their wrongful actions must be passed. Precedents must be set. There must be reform, change, and growth across America.