When former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is sentenced Friday for the murder of George Floyd, he might finally shed light on why he did what he did.
But not everyone in George Floyd Square will care.
“What is that message relaying?” Jay Slaughter asked rhetorically while painting red, green and yellow stripes on what used to be the convenience store across the street from the murder scene.
“(It) doesn’t mean the world isn’t racist, it doesn’t change our future.”
Slaughter is equally unconcerned by how long Chauvin’s sentence will be, from a minimum possibility of 12-and-a-half years in prison on the low end to a maximum of 40 years.
“The conviction of a police officer doesn’t change the way we live every day when we wake up. Life will still be the same.”
“I disagree,” Leslie Redmond told Anadolu Agency, standing next to the memorials of flags and flowers and stuffed animals where Floyd died.
“We need to send a symbol, a sign,” said Redmond, a former president of Minneapolis’ NAACP, a leading civil rights organization. “We need [Chauvin] to be held accountable for murdering brother George Floyd, and I hope the justice system will follow.”
Facing his future
Chauvin will be given the chance to speak at his sentencing on Friday, an opportunity he declined during his April trial and conviction. There has never been an actual motive offered for what he did other than the wide assumption that, as a police officer, he felt entitled to kneel on George Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.
His defense team argued unsuccessfully that Chauvin felt threatened by Floyd after a routine arrest for allegedly passing off a counterfeit bill. The murder, captured on a bystander’s cell phone video, triggered demonstrations — some violent — across the world.
But it is Chauvin who will face a verbal pile-on during his sentencing. Members of George Floyd’s family will give victim impact statements, and in an unusual move, the court will allow ordinary members of the community to submit written statements on how Floyd’s murder affected them.
Chauvin also faces consideration of “aggravating factors” which could push his sentence to the higher end, including the fact that children watched the murder and that Floyd was particularly vulnerable as he lay bound on the ground.
The defense has gone out on a limb, asking Judge Peter Cahill to sentence Chauvin to merely probation or, at least, less than 12 years in prison. Defense attorney Eric Nelson argues that Chauvin is a first-time offender who did not realize he was committing a crime as he simply carried out his official duties and that his lifetime as a former police officer is already bound to be shorter than that of an ordinary “civilian.”
Many people around the world, and especially here in George Floyd Square, demanded that Chauvin face a maximum conviction in April, and that is what happened: guilty on all three charges he faced, including second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter.
But even prosecutors are not clamoring for the maximum sentence of 40 years. The prosecution is asking for at least 30 years in prison, and the man who oversaw the prosecution, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, even told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he felt a bit “bad” for Chauvin.
Future of George Floyd Square?
Chauvin still faces federal civil rights violations and the three other officers who were with him that day face their own trials next year.
But for people around the world, Friday’s sentencing might feel like the end of the story, and that is not necessarily going over well in George Floyd Square. Vendors sell rows of “Black Lives Matter” merchandise here. A woman named Eliza Wesley calls herself the “gate-keeper” of the Square — “He’s gonna get whatever God wants him to get,” she says of Chauvin’s sentencing.
The city, and particularly this neighborhood, have been empowered and exhilarated by the national reckoning on race that was unleashed here, but also exhausted by it.
Jay Slaughter, already cynical about the Chauvin sentencing, feels the same way about the tourists who flock here from all over the world.
“I think they treat it like a zoo, like we’re zoo animals. They wanna feel the so-called energy here. They take pictures, [but] they don’t come speak to us at all.”
Leslie Redmond says she hopes people will still care about the George Floyd story.
“I wish it WAS the end” of the story, she said.
But now activists are focusing on other cases of unarmed persons of color killed by police.
And when the media packs up and the crowds thin out, “we’ll still be here painting,” said Slaughter, “giving knowledge, protecting the neighborhood, teaching the neighborhood.”
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