Even while staring down the barrel of a potential 30-year prison sentence for murdering George Floyd, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin couldn’t bring himself to say the two simple words to the Floyd family on Friday that might have suggested he had a glimmer of remorse.
Instead, Chauvin offered his “condolences” before floating some bizarre assurance that the family would find enlightenment and tranquility somewhere down the road.
“There’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest, and I hope things will give you some peace of mind,” Chauvin said from a Hennepin County courtroom, moments before he was sentenced to 22½ years in prison.
In this image taken from video, former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin addresses the court as Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill presides over Chauvin's sentencing, Friday, June 25, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. (Photo: AP)
It was,we hope, the final insult from a man who has, from the moment Floyd encountered him last Memorial Day and the world witnessed his actions via video, leaned in – literally – to his contemptible behavior.
This is history: Derek Chauvin is guilty of murdering George Floyd. Black lives do matter
Floyd died under the crush of Chauvin’s body on May 25, 2020. Floyd said “I can’t breathe” at least 27 times as Chauvin pushed his left knee onto Floyd’s neck, repeatedly readjusted pressure and held it there for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Floyd cried for his mother and cried for his life. Chauvin smirked as he listened to Floyd’s pleas and those from onlookers. But he never let up.
‘Particular cruelty’ vs. ‘selfless man’
During sentencing proceedings Friday, Chauvin proved to be vile right until the end.
Chauvin, 45, was convicted on April 20 of second- and third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors had requested a 30-year sentence, while defense attorney Eric Nelson sought probation for his client.
Last month, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill agreed that Chauvin should face a higher sentence because his crimes involved abusing his position of trust and authority while killing Floyd in the presence of children. Cahill found Chauvin treated Floyd with “particular cruelty” because of the “prolonged nature of the asphyxiation.”
EDITORIAL: Derek Chauvin’s 22.5-year sentence is welcome step in march toward racial justice
A makeshift memorial for George Floyd including a mural cards and flowers on June 1, 2020 his seen near the spot where he died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn. (Photo: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY NETWORK)
Chauvin appeared to have little public support during the three-week trial that led to his conviction. Rarely did anyone appear in a chair reserved for a family member or friend who wanted to be inside the courtroom, which had limited access because of COVID-19 restrictions.
But Chauvin’s mother, Carolyn Pawlenty, spoke Friday, insisting that she wanted America to know she supports her son. She characterized him as a “quiet, thoughtful, honorable and selfless man.” She asked Cahill for leniency.
“When you sentence my son, you will also be sentencing me,” she said. “I will not be able to see Derek, talk to him on the phone, or give him our special hug.”
Accountability? Yes. Justice? No.
I would like to note that Chauvin stripped Floyd’s loved ones of all of those familial niceties, too. And, much worse, Floyd is dead.
I can’t help but assert that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Not once did Pawlenty address the Floyds or express any sorrow for their loss. Not once did she display empathy. Not once did she seem embarrassed or contrite for her son’s actions.
Chauvin sentence not enough: Put police oversight in the hands of the people.
But Chauvin will be held accountable. It started with the conviction and it ended Friday with a lengthy prison sentence. I won’t quibble with Cahill’s decision; he went above sentencing guidelines. Derek Chauvin will have years to think about his laundry list of uncaring actions during incarceration. Is it justice? No, of course not. Justice would mean that systems are in place to ensure that state-sanctioned murders can’t be committed against any American.
Today, we will embrace accountability. Tomorrow, we begin work anew.
Though Chauvin didn’t have the heart or decency to offer Floyd family members a heartfelt apology for the loss of their father, brother, uncle, friend, I extend these words to them in his callous stead.
National columnist Suzette Hackney reported from Minneapolis for six weeks during the Derek Chauvin trial, embedded with the community. Her final dispatch explored the healing still to be done.
Hackney is a member of USA TODAY’S Editorial Board. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter: @suzyscribe
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to [email protected]
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