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CSotD: In Re Chauvin (dissenting)

 

The sentencing of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has aroused a lot of emotion and several cartoons. I ran this Michael de Adder piece the other day, but I’m repeating it now because it represents a restraint I wish other commentators had struck.

It’s not much of an “opinion” in the sense of a call to the barricades, but it is a good summary, with victimizer turned victim, the weight of the law depicted in the gavel, and the irony of Floyd’s last words used as a sign of Chauvin’s inability to escape judgement.

Cartoons that summarize rather than offer a strong opinion can be off-puttingly lukewarm, but there are times when summary is more appropriate, and that is particularly the case when there is a lot of complexity to be absorbed in the short time editorial cartoonists have.

Commenting on a legal case is hard for non-lawyers and commenting on race relations is tricky for those in the majority culture. I am neither black nor an attorney, but I’m recovering from a week of having non-Catholics explain my (former) religion to me, so perhaps that offers some perspective.

Two things, before we get started on my dissensions:

  1. George Floyd’s unnecessary death was murder, and Derek Chauvin’s arrogant, deadly actions shock the conscience. There can be no doubt of either.
  2. Those who comment professionally on the news should be journalists, not barroom pundits. This applies to cartoonists as well as to columnists.

I would add to that second point that it is not fair to accuse cartoonists whose political views differ from your own of getting things wrong unless you apply the same standard to those with whom you agree.

In this case, I’m dissenting without, overall, disagreeing.

There will be some pretty dense links today, but, if you want to understand the issues, you should follow them. Consider it “a day in the life of a journalist.”

 

The easy dissent is with Jesse Duquette, who offers a comparison of two cases that differ in so many ways as to be virtually irrelevant, one to the other.

Start with the fact that one case took place in Mississippi and the other took place in Minnesota. Unless the argument is to abolish state laws in favor of one federal legal system, this gets us off on the wrong foot.

I agree that Allen Russell is the victim of an unfair law, a “three strikes” statute under which his convictions for burglary and illegal possession of a firearm made his marijuana conviction the third strike that yielded a life sentence. There are 29 states with three-strike laws, but some have modified the statute so that the third strike must be a violent felony, a sensible distinction that would have spared Russell.

Minnesota’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission prepared an extensive and readable analysis of the approach, which may be why they are not among the 29 with such a law.

For additional reading, the LA Times reported on a study showing that African-Americans were 13 times more likely than whites to be sentenced under California’s three-strikes rule, but the authors of the study note that this may have had more to do with how often they were arrested and convicted rather than how the statute was applied.

To which I would add that, if you can afford a good lawyer, you can get a whole lot of things plea-bargained down to misdemeanors, and that the ability to afford a good lawyer certainly follows some racial lines.

Which is to say, I agree that Russell is being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and that race is very likely a factor, but the comparison remains apples and oranges.

Ed Hall compares the two men’s fates, but assumes that, if he is a model prisoner, Derek Chauvin will be paroled as soon as he is eligible.

First off, Chauvin faces federal charges that — assuming conviction — will extend his sentence, unless those sentences are imposed to run concurrently, which is highly unlikely.

But, feds aside, good behavior is only one factor that makes you eligible for parole; it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get out early.

Would Floyd’s family show up at parole board hearings to oppose release? It’s hardly news that the family wanted a harsher sentence. Victim’s families, understandably, nearly always want the max and are often disappointed that even that couldn’t be more.

However, I watched MSNBC’s Alex Witt interview Floyd’s cousin, Shareeduh Tate, who heads the George Floyd Foundation, yesterday.

Tate kept explaining that they were more concerned with preventing future tragedies and injustices than in obsessing over the sentence.

However, Witt kept pressing her for her emotional response, and Tate kept deflecting, until Witt finally got the minute-long segment that is the only portion of the interview posted on line.

Witt’s persistence reminded me of “Broadcast News,” in which William Hurt’s smarmy reporter fakes a shot of himself wiping away an oh-so-sensitive tear. The Geraldo approach to journalism.

In any case, Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years, not 15.

 

But speaking of emotional responses, Steve Benson draws what is known in the trade as a “weeper,” criticizing that 22.5 year sentence and showing Justice herself mourning.

If you’re advocating the return of the death penalty, it’s a valid approach, but, even if he’s only insisting on the max, Benson’s disagreement is with the statute, not the judge, who not only went well above the sentencing guidelines but explained his reasoning and his limitations in the sentencing statement.

Incidentally, I found that this Bowling Green analysis of police convicted of murder (5) interesting, but then found this report which points out that BGU limited their inquiry to firearm deaths and that there have been 14 police officers convicted of murder in the line of duty.

 

Finally, Clay Jones shows the unlikely scenario of Chauvin put out in the general population, and whether he is evoking the prospect of murder, of prison rape or of both, it’s not somewhere I’d have gone. As always, he explains his thinking, and, as always, it’s worth reading.

I would assume Chauvin will be isolated for his own safety, which, I would also suggest, will make his sentence of 22.5 years, plus whatever the feds tack on, seem even longer than it will feel to those of us on the outside, who will likely mark a few anniversaries and then go on with our lives.

Let me add once more that I have no sympathy for Derek Chauvin, only for the rule of law.

And for good journalism.

And that, along with Shareeduh Tate, I hope some good can come of this horrific event.

Community Comments

#1 Ed Rush
June/28/2021
@ 7:53 pm

“a sensible distinction”? Weren’t we talking about Mississippi?

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