What Derek Chauvin's Sentencing Means for the Future of Police Accountability

Chauvin’s conviction and sentencing is a historic instance of accountability, yet it signifies the beginning, not the end, of a push for societal change

The case that sparked nationwide protests and advocacy came to a close (albeit not a final one) at the end of June. Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. Chauvin will serve two-thirds of his sentence in custody, but will then be eligible for “supervised release” if he meets certain qualifications. While Chauvin did not receive the full 30 years that the prosecution was pushing for, Judge Peter Cahill’s sentence exceeds the Minnesota sentencing guidelines – which recommended up to 15 years for Chauvin. Cahill cited Chauvin’s “[abuse] of his position of trust or authority” and treatment of Floyd with “particular cruelty” for the stricter sentence. Cahill further explained his decision by referencing Chauvin’s indifference to Floyd’s pleas and prolonged restraint. 

Following the charges, advocates, supporters, and those connected to Floyd expressed mixed emotions. On one hand, Bridgett Floyd, George Floyd’s sister, said it “shows that matters of police brutality are finally being taken seriously.” Conversely, Nekima Levy Armstrong, a Minneapolis protest leader, claims, “Just because it’s the most time doesn’t mean it’s enough time.” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison explained that while “today is... an important moment for our country…. but by itself, it’s not enough.” Chauvin’s conviction and sentencing is a historic instance of accountability, yet it signifies the beginning, not the end, of a push for societal change. 

The sentencing has aided legislative efforts. When asked by the president of Afghanistan, President Biden said, “I don’t know all the circumstances that were considered but it seems to me, under the guidelines, that seems to be appropriate.” In Congress, the administration is pushing for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to “ban the police’s use of chokeholds, impose restrictions on deadly force and make it easier to prosecute officers for wrongdoing.” While the bill is currently stalled, the administration has hope for the policy’s eventual passage. 

Amid his sentencing, Chauvin gave a monologue that many see as evidence of what is to come. According to The Hill, Chauvin offered his “condolences to the Floyd family,” notably not apologizing or taking responsibility for his actions. Chauvin noted that “pending legal matters” prevented him from saying more. This cryptic statement confused many at first, but new details offer some explanation. The former officer now faces federal civil rights charges that may require him to publicly discuss Floyd’s death for the first time. Alongside the three other officers involved in Floyd’s death, he was charged by a federal grand jury for violating Floyd’s constitutional rights and denying him medical care. Chauvin and his lawyers, from reports, are now close to reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors that would force Chauvin to break his silence, explaining “what he did to Floyd and why.” Under these conditions, Chauvin would have lost his leverage to pursue this deal if he formally apologized during his criminal trial. What is unclear, however, is how the other three officers will navigate these federal charges. While current talks of such a plea deal are largely rumors, the response has been varied. Some support the cause arguing for Chauvin’s public accountability, while others demand a harsher punishment. Regardless, Chauvin’s criminal conviction and the prosecution of federal civil rights abuses offer hope for the future of police accountability. 

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