On April 20, former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty on all charges for the death of George Floyd. The video footage of his death May 25, 2020 shocked, not only the nation, but was viewed around the world with millions witnessing what would later be confirmed as the murder of Floyd. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter May 23 of last year.
The charges against Chauvin led to a trial beginning March 26. After nearly one month, the 12 jurors found Chauvin guilty on all charges. This could mean up to 75 collective years behind bars for Chauvin. On June 16, he will face his sentencing from Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill.
This case was a pivotal moment in United States history, where police officers are rarely charged, let alone convicted or sentenced. Professor Raymond Carman of the political science department explained that since 2005, only about 0.04 of fatal shootings by police officers resulted in a murder conviction. While George Floyd’s death does not fall under this category, the statistic still reflects the nature surrounding accountability for death at the hands of officers.
“When the police are seen as life-takers rather than life-savers, a just society is upended, and fear —of the police as much as of law-breakers — becomes a constant in people’s lives,” Criminal Justice Chairperson Zakir Gul said.
As a former police officer and police chief, he acknowledged police officers are meant to be saving lives and not taking them.
Criminal justice major Matthew Chu has spent the past eight years of his education focusing on criminal justice and systematic issues facing society.
“When I first saw the video of George Floyd being kneeled on top of, I was sick to my stomach,” Chu said. “Often times I feel that I’m numb to many situations that happen. I grew up surrounded my Black Americans, and the first thought that I had was, what if this happened to one of my friends or the father of one of my friends.”
This feeling of discomfort was shared among many. Carman found it impossible not to be “sickened” by the cries of Floyd as he begged for his life.
“It was, frankly, hard to see the expression on Derek Chauvin’s face and his body language — including putting his hand in his pocket — while he was kneeling on George Floyd’s neck and not be enraged,” Carman said
Carman explained that the trial of the State of Minnesota vs. Derek Chauvin was unique in nature, in part due to the qualified immunity granted to police officers by the Supreme Court. This means that, “police officers are only personally liable for actions that a ‘reasonable’ officer; acting in the moment, from the vantage point of the officer in the incident in question, and without the benefit of hindsight, would not have engaged in,” according to Carman.
Although the ruling sets a precedent of accountability for police officers and holds Derek Chauvin accountable specifically, Carman said it “does not provide justice more broadly.”
Chu hopes to see police reform through background checks, psychological screenings and better public relations between officers and marginalized communities, hoping that, “this may lead to the solution of violence toward Black Americans.”
He provided NYC’s Stop and Frisk policy as an example of targeted policing, where Black Americans are more often targeted by police under the impression that they’re “more likely to have a gun.”
“The violation of even one person’s freedom of breath must be condemned, as even a little hole or crack in the ship of democracy can place everyone, including police officers, at great risk for loss of life and liberty,” Gul said.