On Friday, a Minnesota judge sentenced white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, the black, unarmed father of five whose neck Chauvin pressed his knee into for nine-and-a-half minutes on May 25, 2020. The killing sparked weeks of worldwide protests against police brutality and institutionalized racism. The ruling came hours after the court rejected Chauvin’s request for a new trial.
“22.5 YEARS! This historic sentence brings the Floyd family and our nation one step closer to healing by delivering closure and accountability,” Floyd family attorney Ben Crump tweeted.
Prior to the sentencing, members of Floyd’s family addressed Chauvin and the court. Floyd’s seven-year-old daughter, Gianna, said she asks about her dad all the time, wondering how he got hurt. “I wanna play with him, have fun, go on a plane ride,” she said.
Floyd’s nephew, Brandon Williams, also spoke. “Although Chauvin will be sentenced today and spend time in prison, he will have the luxury of seeing his family again, talking to them, and he will likely get to spend time with them upon his release,” Williams said. “These are all luxuries that my young cousin Gianna was robbed of when Chauvin made the active decision to kill her father.”
Floyd’s younger brother Philonise said he hasn’t slept well since Floyd’s killing, but that hasn’t stopped him from advocating for justice to be served. “I’ve been lifting my voice tirelessly every day so that George’s death would not be in vain,” he said, and asked the judge to hand down the maximum penalty. “My family and I have been given a life sentence. We’ll never be able to get George back.”
Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, addressed the court and spoke about her love for her son before Chauvin himself spoke. “At this time, due to some additional legal matters at hand, I’m not able to give a full formal statement at this time,” he said. “Very briefly though, I do want to give my condolences to the Floyd family. There’s gonna be some other information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope things will give you some peace of mind.”
Chauvin’s guilty verdict was announced on April 20th after a 14-day live-broadcast trial. Jurors sided with the prosecution’s argument that Floyd had died as a direct result of Chauvin’s actions: pressing his weight onto Floyd’s neck and back while holding him face-down on the pavement deprived Floyd of oxygen, which caused brain injury and cardiac arrest that caused his heart to stop.
After the verdict, demonstrators in Minneapolis gathered to celebrate, waving Black Lives Matter flags outside the courthouse. Members of Floyd’s family addressed the crowd, including Philonise, who also testified at the trial. “I feel relieved today that I finally have the opportunity for hopefully getting some sleep,” he said. “
“I believe because of prayer, we got the verdict we wanted,” said Terrence Floyd, another of Floyd’s younger brothers, standing beside Rev. Al Sharpton and one of the family’s attorneys. “We said God, we need justice. We need it now. And he answered.”
Chauvin was convicted on all three charges he’d faced: unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. The most serious of the charges, second-degree murder, can draw a maximum sentence of up to 40 years in prison, but state sentencing guidelines recommend just 12.5 years for someone with no criminal history convicted of unintentional second-degree murder.
On May 11th, however, Judge Peter Cahill filed a notice stating he had found aggravating factors in Floyd’s death, suggesting the judge might have been considering a heavier sentence. Chauvin had abused a “position of trust and authority,” Cahill wrote. Chauvin had also treated Floyd with “particular cruelty,” children had been present at the scene, and the crime was committed “as a group with the active participation of at least three other persons.” (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao, the three other officers present during Floyd’s murder, will face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter at a trial set for March 2022.)
Earlier in June, prosecutors requested a 30-year prison sentence. Chauvin “cruelly murdered Mr. Floyd in public view,” the team wrote in a June 2nd court filing. “No sentence can undo Mr. Floyd’s death, and no sentence can undo the trauma Defendant’s actions have inflicted. But the sentence the Court imposes must show that no one is above the law, and no one is below it. Defendant’s sentence must hold him fully accountable for his reprehensible conduct.”