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Guilty: Does the Derek Chauvin Verdict for George Floyd’s Murder Mean Change Will Come?

For many citizens across the nation, April 20 is a day that will be remembered through a story that will be passed on through generations. It was on this day in 2021 that the judicial system in the United States finally seemed to work properly, as a jury found former member of the Minneapolis Police Department, ex-police officer Derek Chauvin, guilty on all three counts for which he was being charged—second-degree unintentional murder, second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder—for the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd. While supporters of Floyd’s family, activists, and many members of the general public felt that this was the appropriate verdict, the path toward justice remains long.

As many have pointed out, the purest form of justice would only exist if Floyd was still alive to see his daughter grow, spend time with his family, and simply live out his own version of an American dream. The verdict that was announced on April 20 was not justice but progress and only a small, progressive step.

While Chauvin now sits in a jail cell, separated from the general population for his safety, the public awaits his sentencing, which is anticipated to be held in the middle of June. It would seem that with convictions on three serious charges, Chauvin would face serious prison time, as the maximum sentences for each offense total 75 years. According to NPR, Minnesota law sentences only for the most severe charge—for Chauvin, this would be second-degree murder—when a person is convicted of multiple crimes that occurred at the same time. In his piece “What's Next For Chauvin And 3 Other Ex-Officers In Cases Over George Floyd's Murder?” reporter Bill Chappell outlines the possibilities for Chauvin’s sentencing under the Minnesota legal system.

“State guidelines recommend that Chauvin be sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison for second-degree murder, given his lack of prior criminal history. But he could face a longer prison term if prosecutors successfully argue that aggravating factors—such as Chauvin's position of authority and Floyd's killing in front of a dozen witnesses—require greater punishment,” Chappell reported. “The maximum prison term for second-degree unintentional murder is 40 years, although the state's sentencing guidelines for second-degree unintentional murder largely taper off at 24 years.”

These factors, in addition to eventual options for parole, have many concerned that Chauvin will serve neither a maximum nor a full sentence. While Chauvin is, to some extent, being held accountable for a crime that he committed, where is the accountability for all the Black lives that continue to be lost at the hands of police? As the family of George Floyd came to terms with feelings that Chauvin would be imprisoned for the murder of their loved one, two days later, the family of Daunte Wright was burying the 20 year old on April 22 after he was murdered on April 11 by a cop in Brooklyn Center, Minn. In attendance at Wright’s funeral were the families of Floyd and Philando Castile, a Black man who was murdered in 2016 by a member of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Police Department.

These are only a few of the families of Black men and women; adults and children; who have been killed by cops. They are all bound by a lifelong connection that pains them every single day.

During a press conference following the Chauvin verdict, members of the prosecution, in addition to George Floyd’s loved ones and civil-rights activists gathered. Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams began speaking with gratitude toward the activists and protestors who, over the past year, supported his family’s quest for justice in honor of his uncle. As Williams addressed members of the press, he had an important message to share, showing that this is hopefully only the beginning of a long-overdue shift in police relationships with members of the Black community, which has long terrorized these citizens.

“Oftentimes the system fails us as Black men and women in America. With all the evidence there, everything pointing to a guilty verdict, we somehow still don’t get the guilty verdict, or in some cases…we don’t even get charges,” Williams stated. “Today is a pivotal moment for America. It is something this country has needed for a long time now. I am hoping today is the start of that. When I say it’s a pivotal moment, we need change in this broken system that was built to oppress us, it was built against us…we see people who are supposed to—supposed to protect and serve, but they do the total opposite.”

According to the organization Mapping Police Violence, 319 people in the United States have been killed by cops in 2021, per an update on April 18. Only moments before the George Floyd verdict was read on April 20, another young Black woman’s life was cut short at the hands of police as Ma'Khia Bryant was shot and killed in Columbus, Ohio. On the morning of April 21, Andrew Brown Jr. was shot and killed by members of the Pasquotank County Sheriff’s department in North Carolina.

These two names are part of the small number picked up by the media every day. Mapping Police Violence states that there have only been three days in 2021 that were free of killings by police as of April 18. Considering this information, the number of Black people killed by police on a daily basis is likely higher than the figure reported by media outlets.

While Williams was experiencing a day that was likely an awkward blend of mourning for his Uncle George and accomplishment stemming from the conviction of Floyd’s killer, he remained committed to using his platform to plainly state the obvious problems with policing in the United States.

“We need police reform bad. These guys are able to wear a badge and go out in the field, which means that they are qualified and trained to do their job at a high level. But when you shoot and kill a man that is running away from you that doesn’t pose a threat, either you’re not qualified and undertrained, or it’s a choice that you want to kill Black men and women. It’s either one or the other,” Williams explained. “I think today [Attorney General of Minnesota] Keith Ellison and his team proved just because you are the law you are not above the law. We need each and every officer to be held accountable and, until then, it’s still scary to be a Black man or woman in America and encounter police.”

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