Today, the man who took George Floyd’s life, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. Some may rejoice, some may see justice served, and others may think this punishment insufficient. While all three can be argued as appropriate reactions, I view things differently.
The root source of the pain and agony that has plagued Floyd’s case and so many others like it (Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others) has to do with the power of the state. It was an agent of the government who took George Floyd’s life. A police officer should be focused on keeping the peace. Instead, they are enforcing laws which often have no victim and determining what action best fits the perceived crime. Floyd was stopped under suspicion of counterfeiting, but of course I could easily spend a $20 bill I got from someone else without knowing that it was counterfeit. I feel confident knowing that no police officer would put their knee on my neck for nine minutes. Multiple other officers stood by as Floyd’s life slipped away from him, silently consenting to their colleague’s actions – agreeing that the power to take a man’s life was not one to be questioned.
George Floyd died because Derek Chauvin, an agent of the local government, felt empowered to take his life without question, concern, or regard for the consequences.
In what other setting would that level of force be excused? If Derek Chauvin had been wearing a t-shirt and jeans, would someone have interfered? Likely the police would have been called to break up the altercation. Instead, citizens stood back in fear of the state, afraid of losing their own lives if they interfered with the police as they ended George Floyd’s life. Bystanders knew that the power of the government and the power of that uniform could turn on them just as easily.
The defense attorney for Chauvin, Eric Nelson, knew about the power of the government, too. Nelson and his legal staff have a storied background of defending police officers with misconduct charges. The defense attorney for Chauvin believed in the power of the government – power that has gone untested and unquestioned long enough – that he requested only probation as a reprimand for taking the life of George Floyd.
Probation. For murder.
Ultimately, the state appointed judge determined the value of George Floyd’s life at 22 and a half years. This ruling forces us to confront the fact that at some point, the public conceded that the government could put a value on someone’s life and determine that it was fair. The prosecution requested a sentence of 30 years, the defense requested none, the judge ruled 22 years and some change. No one is ruling that this government-determined value of life is out of order to begin with. The first time the government placed value on certain lives, it was the 3/5 Compromise, which was later struck down by the 13th Amendment. It appears that this was in word only and that 22.5 years is is just the new government compromise on life. Even worse, the ruling comes on the heels of celebration of Juneteenth.
The government shouldn’t have the right to determine who lives, who dies, and what an appropriate amount of time in prison looks like in exchange for taking a life too soon.
George Floyd should still be here with his family and a man serving 22 years in prison will never be able to change that. There are five children that will never get to spend another day with their father. Countless friends and family that will never see another smile, tell another joke, or share another memory.
But the government says this is justice. It’s not. This sentence is just another example of the government trying to pacify those outraged by the imbalance of power between the people and the state.
The death of George Floyd sparked a new generation into action, pushing back against what they knew to be wrong. People stood up against discrimination. People pushed back against racism. People pushed against people. It all happened for the sake of politics.
Laws like qualified immunity, no-knock raids, and abusive displays of force like kneeling on someone’s neck are what allow this imbalance of power to continue. Thoughts and prayers or political shows with no action behind them are meaningless to George Floyd’s family and the countless others that wake up missing someone in their lives because of the government. It is time for the laws, and the state itself, to change.
We must put #PeopleB4Politics and begin #Living4Liberty in our everyday lives.
With People for Liberty you can help us track the legislation that infringes on your rights, your freedoms. Help inform our efforts, in partnership with Downsize DC and others, to strike down laws that empower the government to tread on individual liberties. We, the people, can no longer accept that the value of our lives is determined by the state. We must stand up for ourselves by pushing back against policy and law. It’s time to see #LibertyInAction.