‘A small step in the right direction’: activists react to Chauvin’s sentencing

Activists share their reactions to the sentencing of Derek Chauvin and call for change in policing laws.

The+Hennepin+County+Government+Center%2C+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+28.+The+trial+of+Derek+Chauvin%2C+the+police+officer+charged+with+the+murder+of+George+Floyd%2C+started+on+March+8+2021.

Shannon Doyle

The Hennepin County Government Center, on Sunday, Feb. 28. The trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd, started on March 8 2021.

Hanna Van Den Einde

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison for the murder of George Floyd. Some Minneapolis residents felt relieved, but some activists felt that Chauvin deserved more time.

Chauvin will serve two-thirds of his sentence in prison and will have an opportunity for parole after serving 15 years. Judge Peter Cahill sentenced him for second-degree murder, though he was also convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in April.

Jae Yates, an organizer with Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar (TCCJ4J), said they were disappointed with the sentencing.

“This is a person of power and privilege who killed someone… so it felt like probation was really lenient and the 22 and a half years was very lenient as well, considering the severity of what happened,” Yates said.

The average sentence for second-degree murder is 12 and a half years, but the prosecution was seeking a 30 year sentence based on the aggravating factors in this case.

The court originally recommended four aggravating factors: that Chauvin abused a position of authority, that Chauvin treated Floyd with particular cruelty, that children were present during the crime and that Chauvin committed the crime with active participation of three other officers, according to Cahill’s sentencing memorandum.

Cahill granted three factors, but said that children being present during the crime was not a reason for an upward departure. He said that although children were present at the crime, they were free to leave at any time and did not indicate any evidence of trauma during the trial.

Within the sentencing memo, Cahill referred to the children as “all four of these young women,” which was “problematic” according to Mary Moriarty, former Public Defender of Hennepin County.

“I think there was a lot that was problematic about his conclusion,” Moriarty said. “First of all, the aggravating factor only requires the children to be present, it does not require that there be proof of trauma.”

Jess Sundin, a member of the TCCJ4J, said she was disturbed by Cahill’s decision to not consider this factor.

“Those young people are changed forever… They were in a crowd of people begging for George Floyd’s life for 10 minutes,” Sundin said. She added that she wants to see change in policing and accountability.

J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. The trial is set for March 2022.

“Going into it, they are facing exactly the same sentence theoretically that Chauvin did, so the stakes are very high for them,” Moriarty said. “On the other hand, they played different roles and we don’t know what the jury will make of the roles that they played.”

Trahern Crews, a member of Black Lives Matter Minnesota since 2015, said that although the conviction and sentencing of Chauvin sets a precedent for other officers, he thinks people need to keep fighting for justice.

“If we don’t keep pushing and keep on fighting for justice, these things will keep happening,” Crews said. “There’s still some issues that need to be addressed here, but I definitely do think it’s a small step in the right direction.”