Chauvin’s sentencing does not end Floyd’s agony - GulfToday

Chauvin’s sentencing does not end Floyd’s agony


Photo has been used for illustrative purposes.

The comment of one of the protesters in Minneapolis after former police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison for the murder of George Floyd was that the sentence was “most time does not mean enough time”.

Chauvin’s behaviour in handling Floyd, who had a penal record of his own, was not much different from a typical white police officer towards a black American. But something snapped in the minds and hearts of the long-suffering of the black crowd that watched Chauvin keeping Floyd under his knee even as Floyd gasped that he could not breathe.

The anger that followed the eruption of pent-up suffering. And it turned into the heartfelt cry of Black Lives Matter, which then became a nationwide protest, and even spread to Britain across the Atlantic. So, the verdict of Judge Peter Cahill went beyond the details of the episode. It was about race relations in America, especially about the conduct of white police officers towards alleged black offenders. It was a social, economic, and political conflict all rolled into one.

At the bottom it is about how a human being in power should treat another who is without power. That is why, Judge Cahill described Chauvin’s act as “abuse of a position of trust and authority…” and also pointed to the “particular cruelty” that Chauvin showed towards Floyd.

Minnesota state guidelines prescribe a 12 ½-year prison sentence, the prosecution asked for a 30-year sentence. The length of the sentence is indeed one of the key elements in assessing the seriousness of the crime. It is never going to be an easy decision. Judge Cahill had found his mean to measure Chauvin’s crime.

The first principle of jurisprudence is that justice is not about settling scores, making reparations. Whatever the punishment that is given to Chauvin would not be enough to bring Floyd back to life, and the trauma suffered by Floyd himself and his family and friends could be healed. The hope of the verdict lies in the promise that the police officers would behave with greater restraint and sensitivity towards the blacks in future, and that the blacks would not be subjected to sub-human and inhuman handling by white police officers.

It is unlikely that a single judgment would radically change race relations in America, in Britain and elsewhere.

The overflowing anger of those beyond Floyd’s immediate family and friends might seem an irrational surge. But it arises from a deep need to cry out against an injustice that refuses to close. Everyone including the protesters know that Black Lives Matter is not going to end racial discrimination, and it will take many more angry protests to end it. But the protests, however, ineffective are an important criterion to let people in positions of power and privilege to know that injustice cannot flourish because the oppressed are weak. Even the weak have a voice, and even the weak will rise and protest.

Democratic America’s race problem is as old as the country itself, and it has tried many times, partly successful at times, to face up to the internal demon. The American Civil of 1861-65 was one such occasion, and Abraham Lincoln rose to the occasion. But it turned out that that was not enough as was seen in Jim Crow laws mandating segregation in public places from the 1870s, a decade after slavery was abolished.

The battle for justice and for equality continues more than half a century after Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. It is indeed despairing that there is a Black Lives Matter in 2021 after the 1964 law.

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