By: Genoa Barrow | Senior Staff Writer
“Some justice” is better than none. That’s been the reaction from many following last week’s sentencing of former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd.
Chauvin was sentenced last Friday to 22 ½ years in prison for the “abuse of a position of trust” and “the particular cruelty” shown to Floyd by placing a knee to his neck for more than 9 minutes on May 25, 2020.
Prior to handing down the sentence, Judge Peter Cahill heard from four of Floyd’s family members as they shared emotional victims’ impact statements. Floyd’s family expressed a desire to see Chauvin get the maximum sentence of 40 years. Many legal analysts were anticipating 30.
Terrence Floyd was among those hoping for more time for his older brother’s killing.
“We don’t want more slaps on the wrist,” he said in addressing the court.
“We’ve been through that already in my community and my culture … If the roles were reversed, there wouldn’t be a case, it would have been open and shut, we’d have been under the jail for murdering somebody,” he continued.
While bad behavior landed Chauvin in prison, he may serve as few as 15 years, getting credit for good behavior he may display while behind bars. In analyzing the sentencing, CNN Commentator Van Jones called it a “punch to the gut.”
“15 years?” Jones said. “I know people doing 15 years for nothing, I mean, for victimless crimes of drug possession.”
Local pastor Dr. Tecoy Porter says the only way to change that is through federal law. Dr. Porter, who is running for a seat in the California Senate and also leads the Sacramento Chapter of Rev. Sharpton’s National Action Network, is a proponent of the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act, which will soon have an audience with the U.S. Senate.
“People are saying that this sentence is not justice. The place where there’s no justice is that there’s no overlying standard for policing of policing of this nature,” Dr. Porter shared.
“It’s great what we’re doing in California and other state legislatures are also trying to enact police reform on their own, but they need backup for true justice to occur uniformly throughout the United States,” he continued.
“I know the family is disappointed,” said Dr. Porter, a native of the Minneapolis area who helped plan Floyd’s funeral services. “According to Minnesota law, I believe, they could have given him as low as 12 years or so. We got 22 ½, so I’d say it’s a small victory.”
Chauvin’s sentencing is said to be the heftiest punishment given to a U.S. police officer for the on-duty killing of a Black man. Chauvin addressed the court briefly before his sentencing. He declined to make a full statement, citing other pending legal matters. In his remarks, he offered condolences to the family of the man he killed.
“There’s going to be some other information in the future that will be of interest and I hope things will give you some peace of mind,” he said.
Legal experts say the message may hint to a possible plea deal in the pending federal case, which would call for him to explain his mindset in Floyd’s death.
Family attorney Ben Crump joined Rev. Sharpton, Floyd’s relatives and other members of his legal team for a press conference outside the courthouse after last Friday’s sentencing. As family members voiced their displeasure at the maximum time not being given, Crump pointed to the opportunity to “still see justice” at the federal level.
Crump, who won Floyd’s family a record $27 million settlement from the City of Minneapolis in March, also spoke to the bigger picture.
“Racial justice in America will be Black men and Black women and people of color who will not have to fear being killed by the police just because of the color of their skin. That would be real justice,” he said.
Local attorney and activist Alana Mathews watched the trial and sentencing closely. She and two other professors at the McGeorge School of Law were asked to provide analysis for students and created a podcast on the case. While some have called the 22 ½ years a “light sentence” in light of the crime, Ms. Mathews says she chooses to look at things from a broader perspective. Change, she said, is real.
“Not only with the level of accountability, but seeing how other officers who take their badge and their oath seriously, as they came up, colleague after colleague, and said ‘that’s not what we do, that’s not what we’re trained to do.’ That’s a paradigm shift. Seeing a prosecutor’s office actually charge the case, that’s a paradigm shift,” she shared.
It’s also the hope she has for the local outlook. Ms. Mathews is seeking to replace current District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert who has declined to prosecute in police-involved shooting deaths in Sacramento County.
A change in area leadership, she says, coupled with independent review similar to what happened in the Chauvin case, will go a long way in restoring community trust in the local DA’s Office.
“Locally, in this county, because there has been a lack of action when it comes to accountability, we still have a lot of work to do,” she said.