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  • Writer's pictureRhoda Akua Ameyaa

Does the Sentencing of Ex-Police Officer Derek Chauvin put Justice into Perspective?

Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin (via )

On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd died amidst an encounter with officer Chauvin and two other police officers who received a 911 call that Mr. Floyd used counterfeit money in a shop. In many videos circulating the internet, Chauvin has his knee on the neck of Mr. Floyd for at least eight minutes. In the videos, officer Chauvin neglects Mr. Floyd’s plead to remove his knee from his neck as he could not breathe. Mr. Floyd’s death sparked several controversies in the United States of America, the world at large and brought people’s attention to what power structures function in the United States and whom they serve. While some people have found ways to downplay the cries of the public after the painful death of Mr. Floyd by citing his past demeanors and resistance, a jury decided on June 26th, 2021, that officer Chauvin serves 22.5 years in prison. While this sentencing pleases a part of the public, his sentencing has brought up many issues about what justice means in America and how it is served. Is 22.5 years imprisonment what justice looks like?

Of course, people will always claim that not everything is related to race and forget that racial inequality in the United States has always been a core element of American DNA. The current racial injustices remind us of cases such as the brutal and extremely violent lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955. The unreasonable shooting of Trayvon Martin occurred in 2012, and many black people died at the hands of a system that never protects them. Such memories make us wonder what exactly has changed over time, and no matter how much we think about it, nothing has changed at the end of the day. Black people are still seen as threats, and they are profiled even before they set foot on a place.

The thriving of racial injustices in the USA makes some people unable to accept the 22.5 years in imprisonment that Officer Chauvin received this past Friday. The public is angry that officer Chauvin did not get more years in prison, but really, why? Well, let us go back a little bit and look at some history: In 1982, Willie Simmons, an African-American, was convicted of first-degree robbery and sentenced to life without parole in prison for stealing nine dollars. The State prosecuted Simmons under Alabama’s Habitual Offender law because he had three prior convictions. What do we know about Derrick Chauvin before his encounter with Mr. Floyd that led to the latter’s death? His records show that Officer Chauvin had 18 previous complaints, of which only two were closed with discipline. Simmons had three previous convictions and spent some time in prison for some of them. I am in no way equating the two situations, but I wonder why, after 18 complaints to his name, Mr. Chauvin might serve only two-thirds of his sentencing while Simmons stays in jail. So, tell me, what, aside from racial justice inequality, should we focus on when we consider these cases? I am not an expert of the law; I am only registering a commonality — white privilege exists in all spheres of life in the United States, and it is either used against you, or you benefit from it.

The system has neglected the needs of people like Willie Simmons, who need help with drug addiction and have done its best to erase any bead of hope from their eyes, while Mr. Chauvin, who barely shows any remorse gets to benefit from the system because it was built to protect people like him. If you are not willfully ignoring the events in the United States which follow us everywhere on the internet, in newspapers, at gatherings, in schools, you name them, you probably have by now put two and two together and may have realized that race has always been a factor whether we want it to or not. Racial identity has and will always be a huge part of the justice equation. It is easy to say Black people do not comply with the Police’s instructions than to understand why people resist the police. How exactly do we expect someone to comply when they’re already targeted and perceived to be going to disobey? How will one defend themself when they know any little mistake they make could cost them their life?

I recently met with a friend who is an experimental scientist, and he told me how bad his performance is when he focuses on all the bad possibilities. He said he’d realize how he begins to fidget and makes decisions he sometimes later regrets when he keeps reminding himself of how bad things can go. His analogy is an example of how our minds might make it difficult to listen to what any police officer says without trying to make them understand you are sorry, that you accept your fault because, at that point, you feel the need to get them to see you as human first. In the videos recorded of Mr. Floyd and officer Chauvin’s encounter, we hear Mr. Floyd begging Chauvin and his colleagues not to shoot him, and I wonder why that was what he was concerned with most? It is not surprising, though. In fact, statistics show that Black men and women and other racial minorities are far likely to be killed by police brutality than white people in the United States ( Edwards, Lee, et al., 2019). I encourage you to read this research article to get some statistical context as to why it is important to reconsider what justice means and stands for different racial groups in the United States. Justice is all great and needed until the person we need justice for is not the angel we want them to be. Mr. Chauvin’s sentencing reminds us once again that justice can mean different things in different contexts. It is not my place to comment on a law that I barely know a lot about, but I wish the justice system becomes more transparent. It will be quite helpful for the public to know the rationale behind some sentences. Until then, justice will continue to be only an illusion to some racial groups, and a lived reality to others.

The truth of the matter is, justice can never be served in cases involving the death of people because real justice would be that they are alive and can fight for themselves. Even so, I only hope that the family of Mr. Floyd finds comfort in these trying moments. To all the families that lost a loved one or two to a system that criticized them before giving them a chance, I hope the same comfort finds them as these events may have probably brought back many memories. Let us as people make space and hold our dear brothers and sisters lost to systemic violence and keep up the works that we do in the hopes of bettering racial justice, among many other things. One can get a good start by checking these racial justice organizations, donating, and constantly educating oneself!

Works Cited:

  1. Forliti, A. (2021, June 25). Chauvin gets 22 1/2 years in prison for George Floyd's death. Retrieved June 28, 2021, from

  2. Edwards, F., Lee, H., & Esposito, M. (2019, August 20). Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by AGE, race-ethnicity, and sex. Retrieved June 28, 2021, from

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