By Koda Slingluff
MINNEAPOLIS, MN – As the saga of former Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin’s disgrace continues, progressives wrestle with how to react to his sentencing, announced Friday here.
The convicted murderer has now been sentenced to 22 and a half years of imprisonment, sending the number rippling across discussions of justice in America.
While some celebrate the 22.5 year sentence as a sign of changing times, others insist that the sentence is nothing compared to the systemic horrors of policing. Yet others believe harsh sentencing is good for no one, even if the person is despicable.
The sentence itself is middle-of-the-road as far under Minnesota law. The maximum sentence would have been 40 years, and prosecutors had requested 30. State law suggested 12 and a half years, which Judge Peter Cahill determined was too low for the circumstances.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a noted progressive prosecutor and civil rights advocate, released a statement that positively acknowledged the sentencing.
Krasner referred to it as, “a sentence that is at least respectful of the magnitude of this murder, the heinous quality of [George Floyd’s] slow death by torture, and the abuse of his authority on behalf of the state.”
He added that Chauvin will “have time for reflection” and remorse, but that there is much more work to be done, noting “All of law enforcement, including my office, must do better for our Black and brown and poor and marginalized communities, starting right now.”
This was a diplomatic sentiment. While aligning himself with the position that the murder was a gross abuse of state power, Krasner still humanized Chauvin by discussing remorse. It was agreeable to the public eye, and nodded to the progressive movement advocating for marginalized communities.
The progressive advocacy group People for the American Way released a statement that was less optimistic.
The group made two major points: First, that Chauvin’s sentencing was disappointingly light, and Second, that it is less than a hair on the head of a much bigger systemic problem.
“The pursuit of justice does not stop with Chauvin’s sentencing, and we must have full accountability of law enforcement officers and agencies that allow Black people to be killed with impunity,” the statement said.
For these sorts of advocates, the sentencing is only a whisper on top of a scream for justice. It is not justice, and it is nowhere near justice. It is just one instance of something closer to justice than America is used to seeing.
As the group said, “there is still much work to do to change reckless, deadly policing policies and make public safety a priority.”
A third opinion in the public sphere is that Chauvin did not deserve a whole 22.5 years. This is not a just position held by people who believe Chauvin is innocent, though.
Law Professor, author, and civil rights advocate Jody David Armour shared this view in a series of tweets Friday. Armour referenced a statement from a civil rights lawyer who expressed that Chauvin deserved a harsher sentence.
“Even activists who generally oppose mass incarceration too often revert to punitive and carceral attitudes when a violent crime has been committed against a member of a marginalized group, especially if the offender, like Chauvin, belongs to a socially dominant one.” Armour tweeted.
Armour went on to highlight social advocates that support maximal incarceration for those that have hurt marginalized or vulnerable populations, calling these proponents “carceral progressives.”
In other words, carceral progressives are the sorts of advocates that hold different ethical views toward people who seem unworthy of compassion. This is the sort of person who is against incarceration, but does a full 180° when they feel that a certain person deserves to be incarcerated.
Armour emphasized the phrase “All of Us or None,” a rallying cry for prisoner’s rights. The sentiment of this statement is that advocacy should not only extend to empathizable people; imprisonment is immoral regardless of the person behind the bars.
“We must be so principled in our calls for reform that we want them even for our enemies. We must love and protect each other so radically that we don’t allow our feelings for the few to legitimize pain and suffering for the many,” Armour detailed.
Chauvin’s total time in prison could still fluctuate. He is eligible for early release on good behavior after two thirds of the sentence is served, which would total about 15 years. He is also awaiting a federal civil rights trial, which could result in him being sentenced to more time.
Conversations on what is just for Chauvin are vast and varied. While this sentencing may feel righteous to some, it may also feel like nothing but a shadow of justice to others, or even a step in the wrong direction for still others.
Koda is a junior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.
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