On May 29th 2020, the ex-Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested on the charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter. His involvement in the death of George Floyd, on May 26th, sparked outrage, as social media sites and public protests erupted, to display widespread anger at the incident.
After a video was released, showing the violent actions of police officer Derek Chauvin, as he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, the public demanded a legal punishment to be placed on the officers involved. Many then viewed Chauvin’s arrest, three days after the death of George Floyd, as a success. People believed that the arrest provided closure to Floyd’s family, and it was seen as an achievement for the Black Lives Matter movement, which experienced a surge in attention and awareness, following the recent deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Hennepin County Prosecutor, Mike Freeman, even proudly noted, “This is by far the fastest that we’ve ever charged a police officer.”
However, the criminal charges which Chauvin faces appear to be quite lax. Third-degree murder is the least serious of all murder charges, and is based upon the assumption, that the perpetrator had no significant intent to kill. Essentially, the charge falls in a limbo between manslaughter and murder.
An example of an incident which could be classified as third-degree murder, is a person firing a gun in a crowd, with the intent to be violent, but not to kill, and it resulting in another person’s death. Another example includes an individual selling drugs; this activity itself is criminal, yet the defendant has no intent to kill another person, and so would face third degree murder charges, should a fatality occur.
The video of the incident shows Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd’s airway for nearly nine minutes, three of which were after Floyd became unresponsive. The footage has been interpreted worldwide as a deliberate and malicious act of murder, with the officer telling Floyd “you can’t win”, as he suffocates him until it is obvious that he is unconscious, or deceased. For this reason, the charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter are unacceptable. Although the lead up to Chauvin’s violent actions are debatable, with the officers claiming that Floyd resisted arrest and provoked them, which itslef has been contested by the accounts of bystanders, it would be difficult to argue that Derek Chauvin had no intent to kill George Floyd; necessary criteria for the charges he faces.
Moreover, of the four police officers present at the scene of Floyd’s suffocation, only Derek Chauvin faces arrest. Although Chauvin’s partner, Tou Thao, is also recorded in the video of the incident, defending Chauvin’s actions, and threatening bystanders into remaining uninvolved, he walks free and does not face charges for being implicated in murder.
The vast majority of protesters have deemed the arrest and prosecution of the three other officers a necessity, and there are calls for them to be charged as accessories to murder; a term which describes an individual who is guilty of contributing to, or aiding the commission of a murder.
Shockingly, the police seem to be immune to the law. The Bureau of Justice asserts that the homicide conviction rate in the US is at 70%. However, the conviction rate for police killings drops drastically, at 35% on average, and just 12% when the killing concerns a white police officer and a black victim. In the decade, between 2007 and 2017, only five white police officers were imprisoned for killing a black person. There is an enormous chasm between conviction rates when the case involves the police, and an even larger one when the case has racial overtones.
Startling research from the Pew Research Centre reveals the disparity between the attitudes of white and black people towards the police. Whilst 75% of the white individuals surveyed believe that the police “use the right amount of force for each situation”, only a third of the black community agreed. This distinction continues, as 75% of whites believe that the police treat ethnic groups equally; a figure that drops to just 35% for blacks. Most significantly, 70% of the white individuals surveyed believe that officers are justly held accountable when misconduct occurs, whereas only 31% of the black individuals surveyed believe that this is the case.
The average sentence for homicide is 81 months, yet the average sentence for police officers sits at a meagre 48 months. It is evident that time and time again, the police are treated lightly and do not face the full force of the law, especially when their violence concerns the killing of a black person. It is time for this to change. The murder of George Floyd should act as a catalyst for this change, starting with the prosecution of all four officers implicated in his murder, to the fullest extent of the law. It is imperative that Derek Chauvin faces a more serious murder charge, and that the officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J Alexander Kueng, are punished for their involvement in the murder.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics – Homocide Conviction Rates – https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=qa&iid=403