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Brief # 104 Social Justice

Derek Chauvin Found Guilty in Trial over George Floyd’s Death

By Erika Shannon

April 24, 2021

For almost a month, the nation has been watching the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. He was on trial for murdering 46-year-old George Floyd; the unfortunate events leading to Floyd’s death unfolded when police were called to a convenience store over a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. Former officer Chauvin  responded to this call (with 3 other Minneapolis police officers), and ended up kneeling on George Floyd, cutting off his air supply for approximately 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

On April 20th, Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all three counts that he was facing in the trial: unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Sentencing will be in eight weeks, and while the charges collectively add up to 75 years in prison, focus will be on the most serious charge of second-degree murder. This charge carries with it up to 40 years in prison. Many are holding their breath and hoping for the maximum sentence possible.

It is undeniably true that the American justice system has failed people of color time and time again; most recently, there has been a failure to prosecute law enforcement officers who have killed minorities in the line of duty. According to research by Bowling Green State University from 2005-2019, 104 nonfederal sworn law enforcement officers with general powers of arrest were arrested for murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting where the officer shot and killed someone. Of those 104 who were arrested, only 35 were convicted of a crime resulting from the on-duty shooting, and only four officers were convicted of murder.

While the research does not indicate race of those killed by the police, there is a disturbing trend nonetheless. We have seen these cops slip through the cracks when they should have been sitting in jail. A prime example of this are the officers involved in the March 2020 death of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky; the officer who fired the deadly shot was charged, but not for her murder. Instead, he was charged with “wanton endangerment” for firing into a neighboring apartment. Derek Chauvin did not get off as easy as his Kentucky counterparts, and he will actually pay for his crime.

The guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin may have some impact on policing, as well as racial justice issues, here in the U.S. Cops like Derek Chauvin may not be the majority of police in America; however, his actions reflect poorly on the police profession.

In his trial, we witnessed his own co-workers and chief of police testify that his actions were not in accordance with department policy. It is about time that police officers stop hiding the truth for one another so that there can be accountability within police departments. Cops exist to uphold the law, and it seems they need a reminder that they are not above the law themselves. With this guilty verdict is the hope that we will see police officers check one another on their misconduct, and there is the hope that we will see the justice system hold police accountable for their unjustifiable killings of unarmed civilians.

Racial tensions are high in America, and a lack of racial sensitivity in police forces around the country is not helping matters. We need to take the legal steps to ensure that police are  held accountable for their actions, including ending the practice of qualified immunity for police officers, and enacting tighter and transparent standards for their use of deadly force.

ENGAGEMENT RESOURCES

  • For more information and articles regarding Derek Chauvin’s trial, visit The Marshall Project criminal justice webpage.

To view court documents related to Derek Chauvin’s trial, visit the Minnesota Judicial Branch webpage

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