Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, convicted last year of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, was sentenced this Thursday to 21 years in prison on federal charges of violating the civil rights of African-American Floyd during his arrest for allegedly pay with a counterfeit bill in a store. The death by suffocation of Floyd, whose neck was imprisoned under the knee of the white agent, triggered a wave of massive protests in the country and abroad, under the slogan Black Lives Matter (Black Lives Matter), a denunciation of systemic racism and against the excessive use of force by the police.
Chauvin pleaded guilty to the federal charges in December while serving his first sentence, a similar jail term (22.5 years), in a Minnesota prison. A state court had imposed that first sentence last year for second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, so the federal sentence will run concurrently and see Chauvin transferred to federal prison.
The other three officers involved in Floyd’s arrest, Thomas Lane, Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, were found guilty in February of violating the victim’s civil rights. The latter two were also convicted of failing to intervene to prevent Chauvin from using excessive force.
The person responsible for the sentence, federal district judge Paul Magnuson, read the ruling in St. Paul (Minnesota), warning that seven months will be deducted from the 21-year sentence, which Chauvin has been in state prison. The completion of the sentence will be followed by five years of conditional imprisonment, until his release.
Judge Magnuson called Chauvin’s actions ignominious and inconceivable, according to media in the courtroom, quoted by Reuters. “Kneeing someone else’s neck until they expire is a huge mistake and therefore he should take a major punishment,” Magnuson said. The eight and a half minutes of Floyd’s agony, while he muttered increasingly low “I can’t breathe” and called his mother, became a symbol of police brutality against minorities, at the head of all of them the African American.
Similar and contemporary cases, such as those of the young Breonna Taylor, riddled with six police bullets in her home, Dante Wright, also in Minneapolis, or Eric Garner, all of them African-Americans, had fueled the Black Lives Matter mobilization, but the Floyd’s live agony, filmed on video by a young woman passing by, unleashed a massive and organized response, which reached the main capitals of the world.
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Federal prosecutors were seeking a 25-year sentence for Chauvin – the highest sentence possible under the plea deal – arguing that the former security officer abused his authority. However, the defense had asked for 20 years by arguing that the former agent had shown remorse for what happened on May 25, 2020 and accepted his responsibility for Floyd’s death, according to the NBC news agency.
Floyd was arrested in May 2020 at the exit of a small supermarket, where he paid for a pack of cigarettes with a counterfeit bill. During the arrest operation, he was handcuffed and pinned face down on the ground. Chauvin drove his knee into the African-American’s neck, despite his fading insistence that he couldn’t breathe. The event highlighted systemic racism within the country’s institutions, and especially the police, as evidenced by the latest known incident of abuse of force by security forces, the death of a young man in Michigan after being detained by a minor traffic violation. Floyd’s family will receive compensation of 27 million dollars, but the promised police reform that President Joe Biden announced after arriving at the White House, aimed at avoiding such events, has been left in limbo.