Former police officer Derek Chauvin was tried for the murder of George Floyd on April 20. George Floyd’s death has caused a number of Black Lives Matter protests and riots across the country. George Floyd was accused of buying a box of cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. Squad cars arrived on scene and George Floyd was pinned by three police officers. Allegedly, within seven minutes of the first squad car showing up, he was unconscious and showing no signs of life. He and onlookers called out for help because he was unable to breathe.

Ruling and Sentencing

Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The judge, however, said that politicians’ influence over the public could be grounds for appeal. Jurors were asked to consider three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The second-degree murder charge required the jury to agree that Chauvin caused Floyd’s death, without intent, while committing or attempting to commit an assault. For the third-degree murder charge to stick, jurors had to agree that Chauvin unintentionally caused Floyd’s death with reckless disregard for human life. The charge does not indicate intent. Finally, the second-degree manslaughter charge needed jurors to conclude that Chauvin was guilty of creating an unreasonable risk by consciously taking a chance of causing Floyd’s death or injuring him.

The judge will focus on the most serious charge of second-degree murder, which gives a maximum of 40 years behind bars. Chauvin’s sentencing will be based on this charge because all charges stem from the same action. Minnesota sentencing guidelines allow defendants like Chauvin who have no criminal history to receive less time, though prosecutors want a harsher sentence. They plan to ask Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to consider “aggravating factors,” including that Floyd was treated with “particular cruelty” and his death occurred in front of children, as part of the sentencing decision.

Political Influence

Biden spoke to Floyd’s family during the trial. Maxine Waters (CA-D) made comments the weekend before the trial at a rally in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. She said that she hoped the jury would find Chauvin “guilty, guilty, guilty” of the death of George Floyd. Judge Cahill got frustrated and said, “I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case”. Politicians trying to influence the Chauvin case represents a violation of the separation of powers and potential grounds for appeal if the jury acknowledges influence. Politicians should allow the jury to be impartial, especially if they do not want an appeal.

Public Reaction

The death of George Floyd spurred some of the largest civil rights protests in decades. Some of these protests turned violent. Cities including Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Lewisville saw clashes with police, buildings and cars set afire, and looting. By evening, many demonstrations had given way to another night of violence and destruction, with protesters ignoring curfews imposed in dozens of cities. Police used tear gas and stun grenades and fired rubber bullets in attempts to disperse the crowds. More than 17,000 National Guard troops were activated in states across the US due to civil unrest.

There has been a surge in protests around the time of the Chauvin trial. The protestors have been outraged at the killing of George Floyd. These have been nationwide. Washington DC, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and other cities have seen these recent protests. Protestors did not seem elated or return home after Chauvin was found guilty. It was simply a steppingstone. Protestors want big changes to the justice system and police force. Protestors were seen with signs that read “the whole damn system is guilty as hell”. 

Similar Case

When George Floyd was killed, the case drew comparisons to the death of Eric Garner six years earlier in New York. The two men uttered the same dying words to the police officers forcefully restraining them: “I can’t breathe.” In Mr. Garner’s case, none of the officers who pinned him on a Staten Island sidewalk and placed him in a banned chokehold ever faced criminal charges. On Tuesday, Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, said she was glad to hear that Derek Chauvin had been convicted of murdering Mr. Floyd. A grand jury found that the officer who had placed Mr. Garner in the chokehold in July 2014 had not committed a crime. Federal prosecutors declined to bring civil rights charges, and it took the New York Police Department five years to fire the officer, Daniel Pantaleo. Only one other officer, Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, was disciplined.

Written by: Miranda Smith

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