Campus, city, state and national leaders reflected on the sentencing of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison June 25.
Jonathan Simon, a professor of criminal justice law at UC Berkeley School of Law, offered a legal perspective on Judge Peter Cahill’s decision, saying that Cahill followed the state guidelines’ departure framework in both “letter and spirit.” However, Simon said the sentence is still a significant amount of time.
“Many of us who believe that prison sentences overall are too long (and I’m one of them who do) should not ignore those values just because we are especially horrified by his crime,” Simon said in an email. “22 years, even reduced by good time credits, is still a very long time to be incarcerated and away from family.”
Had Chauvin not even been convicted, it would have been a clear sign that institutional racism remains so strong that a carefully selected jury with “impeccable evidence” could not convict a “flagrantly guilty” person, according to Simon. But while the conviction suggests a cultural shift, Simon said institutional change relies on social movements such as Black Lives Matter and years of protest.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota issued a statement following Chauvin’s sentencing, reflecting on the work which remains to be done to achieve true racial justice.
“As long as George Floyd isn’t around to hug his kids and Black Americans still live under a system that keeps moms and dads up at night worrying about whether their children will make it home safely, we know we still have work to do,” Klobuchar said in the statement.
She then called upon the Senate to pass reform that would make policing practices more transparent and improve “conduct and training, including banning chokeholds.”
Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn also issued a statement following the sentence. Hahn said the very fact that a guilty verdict and sentence following a murder are considered “historic” underscores the volume of unfinished work remaining to bring justice to policing.
That work includes the city of Berkeley itself, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Terry Taplin.
Taplin cited the city auditor’s report on police stops which found that Black individuals, who make up 8% of the city population, made up 34% of police stops. Furthermore, both Black and Latinx people were searched at higher rates than white or Asian people.
Chancellor Carol Christ said in a statement that the campus community cannot settle for less than the “complete and comprehensive elimination” of racism and anti-Blackness.
“So, as we move forward, let us do what we Berkeleyans have always done: create new art and knowledge, seek justice, make change and question the status quo,” Christ said in the statement.