OPINION: Chauvin’s Sentencing Brings His Trial To A Close, But No Closure For Community

by M. Anthony Davis

A Minnesota Judge sentenced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to 270 months, or 22.5 years, in prison for the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd. 

Chauvin, who was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, briefly spoke at the sentencing and offered “condolences to the Floyd family”, without admission of guilt, formal apology, or showing any level of empathy for the horrific murder that led to nation-wide protests against police violence and the killing of Black and Brown people. 

Four members of Floyd’s family spoke during the sentencing. Two of his brothers and his nephew all asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 30 years requested by the prosecution. Philonise Floyd also spoke of having nightmares where he hears his brother beg for his life and reminded the court his family has already been handed a life sentence. 

The most impactful victim statement came from Floyd’s 7-year old daughter Gianna. Through a video recording, Gianna wished she could play with her dad again, have him home for dinner, and reminisced how he helped her brush her teeth before bed at night.

The court also heard, for the first time, from Derek Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty. She read a statement not only claiming Chauvin was not a racist, but saying Chauvin was a “good man.” She told the court, “sentencing him is like sentencing me.”

While speaking about her son’s good nature, Pawlenty failed to mention  he is currently under indictment for his 2017 arrest of a 14-year-old whom he kneeled on for 17-minutes and beat with a flashlight.  

Even though Chauvin has been sentenced for killing George Floyd, and the case is finally officially closed, there are a lot of elements still lingering. Gianna will never get her father back and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act still has not become federal law. 

As for the nationwide racial awakening sparked by Floyd’s murder in 2020, it feels like a lot of that momentum has dissipated. Police departments were not defunded in the wake of the summer 2020 protests and now, citing spikes in violent crimes, president Biden is calling for more cops, repeating the never-ending cycle of over-policing and violence since the beginnings of this nation.

As for the legacy of George Floyd, who never asked to be a martyr or have a legacy, statues erected in Floyd’s memorial were vandalized in Newark, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York. 

So, where do we go from here? Even in this moment, as Chauvin has become only the second cop in Minneapolis history to receive a prison sentence for an on-duty murder, and as Chauvin surprisingly received more than the minimum sentence, this somehow doesn’t feel like closure. 

Perhaps this feeling of dissatisfaction comes from the realization that Chauvin is not the outlier Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank described in his remarks before sentencing. One year after Floyd’s death, 229 more people have been killed by police nationwide. Even with this trial, and the public outrage of the last year, cops continue to kill citizens.

What makes it so hard to move on is the overall lack of humanity displayed by the legal system and the people who prop George Floyd up to be a symbol that he never meant himself to be. He is not a symbol, he is not a mechanism to be used to push anyone’s agenda. George Floyd was a human being. A father, brother, uncle, lover. He deserved to live, but we all watched him die a long, agonizing, and inhumane death. Derek Chauvin could have been sentenced to 100 years and Floyd’s family would still be grieving and the millions of us who watched the video, along with the people who witnessed the murder live, would still have these images eternally etched into our collective memory. 

There is no closure in that.  

M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

Featured image (A pastor sits in front of a portrait of George Floyd by Peyton Scott Russell at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis on the weekend before Derek Chauvin’s trial began) is attributed to Lorie Shaull under a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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