Minneapolis, Minnesota, US — With a shaved head, dressed in civilian clothes and wearing a blue medical mask, former police officer Derek Chauvin arrived in a downtown Minneapolis courtroom for sentencing Friday afternoon.
As a small group gathered in a grassy plaza outside the Hennepin County Courthouse to listen to the sentencing, breaking out in intermittent chants of “no justice, no peace”, others did the same from George Floyd Square just more than four miles (6.4km) away in South Minneapolis where Floyd was murdered last year.
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After an hour of victim impact statements from several Floyd family members, Chauvin’s mother, and a brief statement from Chauvin himself, Judge Peter Cahill handed down a 22.5-year sentence, minus the 199 days already served, for the second-degree murder charge for which Chauvin was convicted in April.
Before delivering his decision, Cahill gave a brief statement that included a nod to the trauma that the community, state, and country have experienced as a result of the trial while extending sympathies to the Floyd family.
“I’m not going to attempt to be profound or clever here because this is not the appropriate time,” he said in a light Minnesota accent.
Cahill explained that he made his decision based on the law and facts, noting sympathy or emotion, adding that “the job of a trial court just is to … deal with specific cases,” not to send a political or cultural message.
DA Bullock, a filmmaker and community activist in North Minneapolis, told Al Jazeera moments after the sentence was announced that he had not spent any time thinking of how much time Chauvin might get.
“It hasn’t ever occurred to me that it’s going to be satisfactory or change anything around folks now being safe in our neighbourhoods,” he said.
“I don’t think people are convinced about justice here because they know Derek Chauvin is not alone. They know this is an [Minneapolis Police Department]-wide problem.”
“There’s been frustration in the coverage of this case, too,” Bullock continued. “I understand that it’s a big case but it belies the fact that we had another police killing of Winston Smith,” who was shot by police in Minneapolis on June 3.
“We don’t know anything about the case – there’s no transparency around it, no facts of the case presented to the public to even know why [the police] we’re accosting him,” he added. “The story isn’t all wrapped up in a bow now that we have this conviction and sentencing of this one officer.”
Outside the court, Reverend Al Sharpton, Floyd family lawyer Ben Crump and more gathered to pray with Sharpton echoing many of Bullock’s sentiments.
“We did get a court date, a conviction, and some time. Some will say this is progress,” Sharpton said to the crowd.
“I will say, as Malcolm X said – if you have a knife in my back six inches, to take it out four inches is progress, but I still have two inches of knife in my back.”
Four miles (6.4km) south of downtown, a speaker is blasting The Beatles as people quip at cars driving through the recently reopened intersection where Floyd was murdered to slow down.
A group of young men holding blue Styrofoam egg cartons blithely hurl the white spheres at each other as others scramble to get out of the way.
At the newly defunct gas station across the street, Broderick Johnson and Deon Moore were chatting and exchanging information after having just met for the first time at George Floyd Square. Johnson came to Minneapolis from Orlando, Florida for a summer trip that ended up coinciding with the sentencing.
“Just being here with everybody, seeing them unite, hearing the sentence – it’s history. I brought my wife and my six-year-old son. It’s truly been a blessing to be able to share the moment and come to the area where it actually happened,” he told Al Jazeera.
“It’s sad, but it’s something we can teach our kids in the future that all kids aren’t good police. For Broderick, Chauvin’s 22-year sentence is “a start, one step to get to where we need to be.”
For Moore, who came to Minneapolis from Indiana for the funeral of his cousin earlier in the week and stayed to come to George Floyd Square today, it feels “surreal” to be here today. He describes the sentence as light for murder.
“Thirty years would have been beautiful, but guess what? He’s still got to go to Washington, DC,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to Chauvin’s pending federal indictments.
Under the shade of the gas station’s canopy nearby, Larry Hawkins came to the square today with a co-worker from Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb.
He came to “say goodbye to a person I’ve never met”, he told Al Jazeera. He is glad that Chauvin was convicted but thinks that the sentence should have been longer.
“I want to say this to Chauvin: If you felt that he was wrong, why didn’t you do your job? Your job was, if he did something wrong, to take him to jail. And we wouldn’t be here.”
Ultimately for Hawkins, “we shouldn’t have had to come together like this for this – there shouldn’t have been no murder or killing for us to come together.”