Derek Chauvin is Guilty -- What Comes Next?
On Tuesday, April 20, 2021 Derek Chauvin was convicted of two counts of murder as well as manslaughter for the death of George Floyd. Each of these convictions accounts for varied maximum sentence lengths. One count of second-degree murder is 40 years, 25 years of third-degree murder, and 10 years for second-degree manslaughter, though it is also clear that Minnesota, where the trial and Chauvin has been held, has guidelines for sentencing that call for far less. That possibility of a lighter sentence length is one of the reasons true justice for George Floyd has not truly been obtained. Another reason is a simple one, and that is George Floyd should have never died during that ‘interaction’ at all.
In the wake of the trial for Chauvin, true justice has seemed evasive and ever out of reach. Alongside the extended trial, the murders of black men, women, and children have continued despite such an auspicious and impactful trial. Just seven hours after the start of the trial, a Chicago officer shot a thirteen-year-old child. A day later, in Florida, a thirty-two-year-old man was shot and killed by an officer claiming the man had reached for his taser. The day after that, during an eye-witness account of George Floyd’s death, a forty-year-old mentally ill man was killed in New Hampshire. On April 11, Daunte Wright a 20-year-old from Minneapolis, where the trial was being held, was shot and killed during a traffic stop. Even more recently, thirty minutes after the verdict of Chauvin’s trial Ma'Khia Bryant, a sixteen-year-old, was killed by officers. For every day of Chauvin’s trial, another person was killed by police in the US. In fact, since the trial began on March 29, 64 people have died by law enforcement officers nationwide. And the horrible, the insane, part of that fact is that it isn’t surprising. The only reason it is astounding is that it is utterly unacceptable, and yet it continues to happen. While this trial forced an entire country to relive a gruesome and traumatizing death, that same country continued to inflict that same fear and trauma over and over again despite the significance, the implication, of what the trial and the eventual verdict could potentially mean. Even with the verdict, there has been consistent back-tracking in the process of justice in this instance through legislation. States such as Florida and Georgia have implemented policies that limit voting access, protect police officers, and criminalize public protests.
In the aftermath of everything, the question now becomes, how do we move forward? What comes next in the wake of this trial and despite racist and divisive legislation? Despite the negativity and the deaths caused by law enforcement throughout the entirety of the trial, the verdict was a step in the right direction. But is that step enough to initiate a domino effect to positively impact the entirety of the country? Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison states, moments after the trial conviction, “...I would not call today's verdict justice, however, because justice implies true restoration. But it is accountability, which is the first step towards justice, and now the cause of justice is in your hands." Following the sentiment of this statement, there have been steps toward accountability and change through reforms regarding policing. Locally, states such as New York--which has overturned a 44-,year-old provision within the New York’s Civil Rights Law that has shielded police officers from accountability--and Maryland--which has repealed their Police Bill of Rights--have worked to enforce policy-based reforms. At the governmental level, attention is on President Biden and Vice President Harris to work in the direction of substantial change. So far the proposal pushing to end the Qualified Immunity Act had reached 66 cosponsors as of August 22, 2020, and is a promising next step for developing strong political reform concerning policing. Additionally, during the trial, both Democrats and Republicans are working towards a bipartisan policing overhaul bill. The established legislation, titled The George Floyd Justice in Policing Bill, will ban the use of choke-holds and no-knock warrants. The bill has since passed the House in March but has stalled in the Senate. Both President Biden and Vice President Harris alongside various Democratic lawmakers have called for the bill to pass, despite the pressure, the bill is still in governmental limbo and has yet to be admitted through the Senate.
Overall, this verdict, while significant, is not true justice. The issue of racial bias and police brutality is pervasive within the system, one win in court will not change the systematic problems within the police force, within the criminal legal system, and within our society. How effective can these new potential laws be if they are even passed? Will the trial be enough of a foothold to finally yield enough individual compassion and political involvement to facilitate true societal change to the point of a paradigm shift. The answer can only come in time...and unfortunately, time is a very limited resource.