- Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd.
- Criminal justice experts don’t think it’s enough to signal that America will start holding cops accountable for misconduct.
- For that, systemic reform is needed, they said.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, but criminal justice experts don’t think that alone signals that America will start holding cops accountable for misconduct.
Ayesha Bell Hardaway, an assistant professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and director at the Social Justice Law Center, told Insider that only systemic reform can prove that America has turned the corner when it comes to taking police brutality seriously.
“Derek Chauvin will spend a significant portion of his life behind bars … so that seems to be appropriate,” Bell Hardaway told Insider. “I’m hesitant, as some may be inclined to, to think that it means anything significant about police reform in this country.”
A jury found Chauvin guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter after being presented evidence that he used excessive force by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while he begged for his life.
The footage of Floyd’s murder had already been in the public eye for nearly a year by the time of his trial and sparked the most far-reaching civil rights movement in decades.
Bell Hardaway feels that too much of the conversation around Chauvin’s actions were framed around him being a “bad apple” and not representative of police conduct as a whole.
“Unfortunately the research and the data shows that’s just not true. That’s not accurate,” she said. “So until we pass a strong police reform legislation in this country, I fear this could be just a moment in time that doesn’t really lead to real change.”
Attorney Eric D. Anderson, a senior trial attorney at Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae, also feels that the decades Chauvin faces behind bars may not mean much in terms of far-reaching accountability.
“It is really hard for me to not see this as a blip because I’m not completely confident that as a society we are ready to hold officers accountable,” he said. “Had it not been for the camera footage that was taken, this would have been swept under the rug like every other offense that Chauvin was involved in and he had a lengthy history of complaints about abuse.”
Anderson, who has worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, said that most defendants in Minnesota will serve about 66% of their sentence before they are released.
The length of Chauvin’s sentence “seemed about right” considering the request by the prosecution, average sentence of 12.5 years, and aggravating factors in the case.
The maximum amount of time Chauvin could have been sentenced to was 40 years.
Members of George Floyd’s family, including his brothers and 7-year-old daughter, gave impact statements at Chauvin’s sentencing. Judge Peter Cahill also heard from Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, who spoke out in support of her son for the first time publicly.
Her comments didn’t address the Floyd family and only talked about how her son’s sentence would affect him and herself.
“Derek, my happiest moment is when I gave birth to you, and my second is when I was honored to pin your police badge on you,” she said.
Pawlenty also said that her son’s “identity has been reduced to that of a racist,” an allegation she rejected.
“I want this court to know that none of these things are true and that my son is a good man.”
Anderson said that Pawlenty’s speech was among the worst statements on behalf of a defendant that he’d ever witnessed at sentencing and that it likely did nothing to earn her son any sympathy in the eyes of the judge or public.
“I think that the mother was clearly self-absorbed, and I don’t think she did him any favors,” he said. “Telling him how much that she loved him, and that she thinks he’s innocent: We all know he did it. He’s guilty. That’s a fact.”
Anderson said that Pawlenty’s comments left him little hope that society was changing. Like her, he said, there are a lot of people in the world who don’t believe Chauvin should have ever been tried.
“She did not offer any kind of comfort or condolence or apology in any way, shape, or form to the Floyd family,” he said. “This was all about her and her son.”