When officers approached Floyd on May 25, 2020 outside of the Cup Foods corner store and they decided to arrest him, he tried repeatedly to explain he couldn’t get into the back of their squad car because he had anxiety and claustrophobia. Police still deemed him to be resisting arrest. And when the situation escalated to officers piling on top of the 46-year-old Black father, he told them 27 times that he couldn’t breathe, prosecutors said in closing statements of the murder trial.
Floyd’s daughter, Gianna, who was allowed to give a victim impact statement virtually during sentencing, said she just wants to play with her father again. “We used to have dinner meals every single night before we went to bed,” she said. “My daddy always used to help me brush my teeth.”
When asked if she could say anything to her dad, she said it would be: “It would be I miss you and I love him.”
Prosecutor Jerry Blackwell said during closing statements this was a case so simple even a 9-year-old witness could understand it. “Get off of him,” she had told police before Floyd’s death.”That’s how simple it was. ‘Get off of him.’ Common sense,” the attorney said.
It’s just that simple for me too, but considering how long Chauvin should remain in prison required a greater degree of analysis. Brooklyn public defender Scott Hechinger questioned how it could even be an “unpopular opinion” that sentencing Chauvin to more than two decades in prison was harsh.
“And yes I know well that people are serving longer sentences for substantially less than murder,” the attorney said on Twitter. “That doesn’t make 22.5 years ‘lenient.’” He added that he gets concerned when we call for greater harshness for those we despise, like Derek Chauvin, because “I know that calls for greater harshness only further entrench the brutally harsh & violent criminal system that disproportionately targets & devastates people like George Floyd.”
Along the same lines, Keeanga Yamahtta, a Princeton University professor and contributing writer for The New Yorker tweeted: “Unpopular post…Only in America could anyone think that a prison sentence for more than twenty years is not harsh enough. If you know anything about prison, its utterly life destroying. I hope that we can move beyond the relentless desire for punishment. We need so much more.”
It’s a hope I share. But while I’m hoping, I also realize the reality of the current justice system and accompanying societal norms means only zeroing in on this idea of leniency for murderers when they are white.
Gwen Levi, a 76-year-old Black woman, didn’t get such leniency, and she wasn’t convicted of murdering anyone. Levi served 16 years in federal prison for dealing heroin before she was allowed to finish her 24-year sentence in home confinement, The Washington Post reported. But even that came to an end because she didn’t answer a probation officer’s phone call while sitting in on a computer processing class in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. “There’s no question she was in class,” her attorney Sapna Mirchandani told the Post. “As I was told, because she could have been robbing a bank, they’re going to treat her as if she was robbing a bank.”
Levi’s story is one of several examples of Black offenders getting harsher sentences than their white peers. “There’s two justice systems in America: one for Black people and another for whites,” Floyd’s family attorney Ben Crump tweeted.
Judge Peter Cahill wrote in his sentencing order: “Part of the mission of the Minneapolis Police Department is to give citizens ‘voice and respect.’ … Here, Mr. Chauvin, rather than pursuing the MPD mission, 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.”
Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter on April 20, and he was sentenced on the heftier offense of second-degree murder, which comes with a 40-year statutory maximum term. Departing from the state’s requested 30-year sentence, Cahill imposed a sentence that was 10 years more than the presumptive sentence of 10 and a half years.
Cahill wrote in his sentencing order as an explanation that although four young women who witnessed the murder “were traumatized by witnessing this incident, the evidence at trial did not present any objective indicia of trauma.” He pointed out that one of them posted video to a social networking site, another recorded for several minutes, and two were “observed smiling and occasionally even laughing over the course of the several minutes they observed” Chauvin and other officers restraining Floyd.
“In other words, while the presence of children is an aggravated sentencing factor and a permissible ground for departure for purposes of the first stage of analysis, under the second stage of the analysis, this Court does not find that specific facts in this case are so substantial and compelling to warrant an upward durational departure on this ground,” Cahill wrote. The short of it: Chauvin will be eligible for parole in about 15 years.