After an unprecedented year of violence, brutality and conflict, Black Lives Matter activists have finally seen justice. Earlier today, Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder after refusing to heed George Floyd’s plea, “I can’t breathe.”
Chauvin, who joined the Minneapolis Police Department in 2001, has received a guilty verdict for all three of the charges against him; second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
Combined, these charges could see the former police officer in prison for 29 – 75 years. Prosecutors are seeking a sentence above the guideline range due to a variety of aggravated factors, including Floyd’s vulnerability, Chauvin’s abuse of authority, as well as the fact the crime was committed in front of children.
President Joe Biden, who took office in the wake of violent pro-Trump riots in the capitol last year, explained such guilty verdicts are “far too rare.”
A 2019 study found that 1 in 1000 black men can expect to be killed by police in the US. Protected by their powerful positions, police are rarely charged for excessive uses of force. Conviction rates are significantly lower for police officers even when matters go to trial.
In the lead up to Floyd’s murder, Chauvin’s superiors had ignored a litany of complaints against him. Of the 18 complaints, one included wrenching a woman out of her car during a speeding stop. Chauvin had also been involved in three police shootings. One of which was fatal. Despite this dark history, Chauvin received a commendation medal in 2008.
Earlier today, justice manifested itself in the triumphant roar of activists who had gathered on the streets throughout the US. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests that convulsed the nation in June last year, one can only imagine the backlash had the matter been found differently.
One local activist, Arlisa Delgado, told the ABC she cried when she heard the news. “I didn’t know George, but he was my dad, my brother, my uncle. That could’ve been any black man. That could’ve been me,” she explained as other crowd members jumped, hugged and whistled.
Although George Floyd’s case may seem distant, today’s guilty verdict could provide a chance for Australians to reflect on the racism at the core of their own criminal justice system. Aboriginal Australians and their allies have been calling for reform of Australia’s criminal justice system for decades. Indigenous people were 16.5 times more likely than non-indigenous people to die in custody between 1990 and 1995. The statistics in 2018-19 were similarly grim as Aboriginal deaths in custody remained disproportionately high, especially from preventable causes.
In a society overcome by prejudice, Chauvin’s conviction exemplifies the importance of police accountability and discipline. He will be sentenced at a later date.
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