Apr 30, 2021 | OPINION | By Reed Schaefer | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
I hope you also had the opportunity to see the Minneapolis court announce the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial on Tuesday, April 20. After a four-week emotional battle in court, the jury’s simple announcement of three guilty verdicts belied the drama behind the announcements — many of us were literally holding our breath for the decision.
I hope the Floyd family gains some solace with Derek Chauvin being held accountable, but where is George Floyd’s justice if he is dead? We can celebrate the outcome, but the fight for racial justice must continue every day: racial injustices have been and continue to be a fundamental part of American society and daily life.
Derek Chauvin, the police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes last May, was convicted last week on all three charges: second-degree unintentional murder (Chauvin assaulted Floyd with his knee, which unintentionally caused Floyd’s death), third-degree murder (Chauvin acted with a “depraved mind,” which resulted in Floyd’s death) and second-degree manslaughter (Chauvin’s “culpable negligence” caused Floyd’s death).
Chauvin’s bond was revoked, so he will remain in custody until sentencing. The other three officers responsible will go on trial August 2021.
Sentencing will be announced in seven weeks, so the next big announcement is how long Chauvin will be spending behind bars. The presumed sentences for these charges are about 12.5 years each, but upon state recommendation, Chauvin could face up to 40 years for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for the third-degree murder charge and up to 10 years for second-degree manslaughter.
Some legal commentators have commented that it is unlikely that Chauvin would receive a full sentence for each of the guilty verdicts because they each arise from the same action: Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck.
However, the state has asked for a tougher sentence than recommendations provide for the case. Chauvin’s sentencing could range from less than 10 years to the rest of his life in jail. What do you think is just sentencing?
The dehumanizing video from 11 months ago that is still etched in our memory led to nationwide protests. We relived this experience during the four-week trial as the video was shown every day the prosecution presented its case.
The defense called seven witnesses, but not Chauvin, who invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. But the testimony was thin. The defense tried to tell us that Chauvin’s use of force was reasonable, and that Floyd died of his own drug usage and health complications.
Familiar tactic: when the case is weak, blame the victim. The jury knew better. We’ve seen the video; it was murder.
There was no justice for Floyd in this trial. There couldn’t be even with the guilty verdict because he did not live to see this through. This isn’t justice; it is accountability. Accountability should be a basic component of policing, so this win feels like a fight for something we should already have.
Chauvin’s conviction is a good start for increased accountability for policing, but the success of this case may be largely due to a 17-year-old filming the entire sequence and posting it for all to witness. Accountability cannot rely on whether someone is able to film the police encounter. The whole system must be uprooted if we are to find real justice.
True accountability and justice cannot come without dismantling the very policing and mass incarceration structures that are sustained through racial oppression and violence. In turn, we should divert this surplus of budget back into the communities that face over-policing and broken windows policing tactics. This money can help communities address the root causes of crime and poverty.
George Perry Floyd Jr. It is important to keep saying that name and keep his memory alive. Floyd’s memory can propel us into our next chapter.
If we get complacent with this victory, we will miss out on the vital next steps. This week, five states will be voting on bills meant to dismantle “Qualified Immunity” (QI). This 1967 Supreme Court precedent is a legal defense that protects public officials (most notably police and correctional officers) from civil liability when they violate someone’s constitutional rights.
In practice, this means an officer cannot be held liable unless it was “clearly established” — meaning another officer has been found guilty of taking the “same exact actions” under the “same exact conditions.”
The QI defense is a violation of justice because it allows police and correctional officers to commit acts of brutality without repercussions. Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor said that QI acts as an “absolute shield” from accountability, which promotes a “shoot first, think later” mentality.
This defense is exploited at the expense of BIPOC communities and prevents prosecution of future, more violent instances of police brutality because it must refer to some previous scenario that depicts the same thing. Thus, no relief in court. No justice.
Urge your senators and representatives to support the “Ending Qualified Immunity Act of 2021.” State Congresses will meet to discuss this bill in Rhode Island on April 26, California on April 27, Illinois on April 28, Maine on April 29 and New York on April 30. Text PGHMTZ to 50409 and Resistbot will ask for your name and address so they can send a letter to your representatives urging them to support the bill!
In addition, GOP legislators in 34 states have introduced 81 anti-protest bills so far during 2021. These bills usually redefine what it means to “riot,” making it more difficult to protest peacefully. Many of the laws make it harder for protestors to gather and easier for law enforcement to round-up and charge protestors.
However, some GOP state legislators are pushing for more extreme laws. For example, recent Iowa, Oklahoma and Florida laws protect drivers who are fleeing a protest and happen to unintentionally hit or injure protesters.
In addition, a new law introduced in Florida, termed the “strongest anti-rioting” and “pro-law enforcement” measure in the country, denies bail for defendants accused of committing crimes during a protest until their first court appearance.
This influx of legislation is an attack on our First Amendment constitutional right to protest and on the future of racial justice action. We must stand our ground and fight these racist and unconstitutional policies, and we must urge our representatives to do so as well.
You can support the George Floyd Memorial Foundation and follow @justiceforgeorge. Also, inform yourself and find others who share your interest to discuss, so that you have the proper ammunition for the fight for racial justice. Here is a community-recommended reading list compiled by popular social media page @soyouwanttotalkabout. Seek out grassroots organizations fighting for racial justice and abolition near you.
If there is a protest against police brutality in your local area, attend with a few friends and stand proudly with your brothers and sisters! Just don’t take pictures of fellow protestors’ faces, and don’t go alone!
We need to start asking ourselves what forces, outside of city-sanctioned protests, will dismantle the very status-quo that the city and state seek to enforce through its police. Can we dismantle these structures if we never step outside of them ourselves? The discussion is already going on, though you may have to adjust your ear to the frequency.