Derek Chauvin has been found guilty on all counts, so now the next step in his trial process is for a sentence to be imposed. While the jury determines whether a defendant is Guilty or Not Guilty, it is the Judge that imposes the sentence.
In Minnesota, courts impose “determinate” sentences, meaning the date of release from prison can be predicted based on the sentence imposed after a criminal trial (or plea). Although every crime has a statutory maximum (more on what that means below), that is not what determines the sentence. To figure out what a person’s sentence will be for a specific crime or conviction, the court system uses the “Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines”. To determine a person’s sentence, the court takes two factors into consideration:
Severity Level of Offense
Each type of crime is given a “severity level score” ranging from 1—11, with “1” being the least severe type of crime (ex: fleeing from police), and “11” being the most severe type of crime (ex: 1st degree murder).
In the case of Derek Chauvin, the severity level of each offense is as follows:
Derek Chauvin's conviction on 2nd Degree Murder, 3rd Degree Murder, and 2nd Degree Manslaughter is an important step towards accountability for the deep harm caused when he and the other three former MPD officers took George Floyd's life. While this verdict will not bring back George Floyd or address the deep and pervasive harms inflicted on BIPOC communities by our criminal legal system, it does represent a significant milestone in our community's quest for police accountability. Our criminal legal system is not designed to hold white police officers accountable for killing Black men. And yet, today, following a traumatizing trial process, there is some measure of accountability.
It is important to note that, in their effort to secure the conviction of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office and MN Attorney General's Office built a narrative throughout the trial indicating that Chauvin's actions do not represent the Minneapolis Police Department, that he dishonored his badge. In their closing statement, they described this case as a "pro-police prosecution", telling the world that Derek Chauvin does not represent MPD. And yet, our communities and the countless clients LRC has represented over the past 51 years know a different reality to be true. Police violence and dehumanization is the norm for our communities and clients. Meaningful police accountability will not be realized until our elected officials and broader community reckon with this truth.
As Derek Chauvin’s case progresses towards sentencing, the LRC will continue to support our communities through the dissemination of legal educational materials and support for restorative processing of this trial. In the coming days, we are likely to see tense interactions between community members and the increased law enforcement presence in the Twin Cities. We stand in solidarity with community members expressing their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, ready to support those who have protest-related legal concerns. The LRC will continue to support our BIPOC communities in the fight for justice.
The sole charge of 2nd Degree Manslaughter brought against former Officer Kim Potter for the killing of Daunte Wright demonstrates a significant failure by Washington County Attorney Pete Orput to pursue and seek justice for Mr. Wright on behalf of our communities, and a dereliction of their responsibility to hold police accountable.
The Legal Rights Center (“LRC”) condemns the charging decision by the Washington County Attorney’s Office, and strongly urges Governor Walz to take immediate action and direct Attorney General Keith Ellison to assume responsibility for the case going forward. An appropriate charging decision would, at the very least, mirror the charging decision made against former Minneapolis Police Officer Mohamed Noor who was charged with 2nd Deg. Murder, 3rd Deg. Murder and 2nd Deg.Manslaughter for shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
A 2nd Degree Murder charge would better reflect what we all witnessed in the body-worn camera footage released on Monday, and would reflect the community’s belief that former officer Potter’s actions were not merely a mistake.
We are also concerned with Washington County Attorney Pete Orput’s role in the prosecution of this case. Orput serves as legal counsel to the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, an unacceptable bias that should serve as an obvious conflict of interest. This case should not be prosecuted by a County Attorney who has no elected accountability to the residents of Hennepin County and who simultaneously advises the chiefs of police who have a vested interest in the outcome of the case that his office is now tasked with prosecuting.
There are also disturbing inconsistencies in the role that the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office (“HCAO”) has played in determining charges against law enforcement involved in the killing of our community members. Despite a June 2020 agreement to refer these cases to other offices for prosecution—the rationale cited for passing responsibility for this case to the Washington County Attorney—the HCAO made their own decisions not to charge police officers involved in the killings of Kobe Dimock-Heisler and Chiaser Vue. The inconsistency is glaring. The LRC demands that the exact terms of the agreement be made public, and that the rationale for which cases are referred and which cases remain at the HCAO be made public.
In the shadow of the continuing trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, and on the same day that hundreds of grieving, yet still resilient, community members marched and rallied in St. Paul to demand justice for Justin Teigen and all lives lost to police, 20-year-old father of one Daunte Wright was gunned down by police after a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, MN.
Just as in the murder of George Floyd, the circumstances that led to Mr. Wright being shot at point-blank range by a police officer reflect the deep and pervasive harms of our law enforcement systems. Mr. Wright was stopped for having expired tabs. Whether he had a warrant or not, this should never have resulted in his death. Fleeing police does not merit a death sentence.
The LRC is deeply saddened by yesterday’s events in Brooklyn Center. Our hearts and thoughts are with the family of Daunte Wright and all who knew and loved him. Once again, Black parents have to grapple with and process the death of a young Black man and explain it to their children. Today and everyday, our Black community must confront the reality that police might kill them, just for living. As our community takes to the street to demand justice, we demand that force not be used against protesters, and that deadly force not to be used at all, whatever the circumstance.
The LRC was born from movements in African American and American Indian communities that shared the common experience of police violence, along with racial and culturally based oppression – and sought its own tool for advancing justice. Soon after, we were joined by the growing immigrant communities who experienced much of the same.
While oppression takes many forms, all our communities deeply feel the weight of the disregard for our individual humanity that so often pervades our systems, impacts our daily lives in vastly disproportionate ways, creates harmful inequity for our children, and forces communities of color to be unduly vigilant about physical risks on a daily basis – including the very real risk of unnecessary death by police.
The LRC stands with all communities and allies seeking criminal justice reform. We stand with the families of Daunte Wright, George Floyd, Justin Teigen, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Terrence Franklin, and all lives lost to police.
'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.' –
1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In spite of the 1st Amendment, the police, aka, the State, often employ a variety of anti-democratic tactics to curtail the rights of protesters and demonstrators when civil and human rights are under attack, or whenever peaceful protesters gather as a way to express grievances over acts of injustice. Tear gas, pepper balls, rubber bullets, real bullets, sonic cannons, arrest and detention, etc., are but a few of the tactics police have utilized against the people protesting peacefully against white supremacy. For the State, violence is an option often used without restraint against Black, Brown and Indigenous demonstrators.
So it makes sense that activists and protesters develop tactics of their own in defense of the causes moving towards social justice and equality.
Legal Rights Center Investigator Garrett Fitzgerald spoke recently about the imperative for activists and protesters to learn what he refers to as 'Activist Solidarity Tactics (ASTs).
Fitzgerald is a veteran activist, and in 2008 was a member of the RNC Welcoming Committee, and subsequently a member of the historic RNC 8 group of activists targeted by police as 'terrorists' for organizing peaceful protests against the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and the metro-wide repression that came with it. He knows something about protests, police and state repression tactics, and what protesters, activists and marginalized peoples can do about them.
1. Why is it important for citizen-activists -- no matter their cause(s) -- to be versed or trained in 'Activist Solidarity' tactics?
'Solidarity is the mutual responsibility and unity of purpose among a group. It is a mechanism by which those with less power can pool their effort to make gains for their collective betterment. Classically, the labor union; individual workers have little power over the boss, but when they unite in common cause that can shift the balance of power. For our purposes we are speaking of “Activist Solidarity” from the point of law enforcement intervention at an action (I use action to encompass protest, demonstration, direct action, civil disobedience or any other moment of challenge to the status quo) up to the point of completion of any criminal case and and its consequences.
'Law enforcement intervention and subsequent legal ensnarement is part of the reactionary political force I refer to as repression. Repression, in short, is the means the state uses to protect itself from change. If you are effective in working to make a change that is a challenge to the status quo – no matter the cause – than you will face repression. To win the day we must all maximize our repression resiliency. One of the ways we do that is by making sure that when we do face repression we squeeze out every drop of power building and change making that we can from the situation so that we win more than we lose.
'Often folks focus on the action and feel powerless in the legal system. Activist Solidarity is about identifying points of intervention and taking collective action to get demands met. This could be [by way of] demands to make sure everyone gets better treatment in custody, like chanting loudly until you are given water or an injured friend receives medical treatment. It could be to push back against the repressive force directly like a call-in campaign to get charges dropped, or it could be to continue to push the goals of the action like using the platform of the court case to speak in the media about why you took action.'
2. In your opinion, how has the state's resolve to selectively use repression evolved/changed over time, despite our constitution's alleged protections of our rights?
'Repression is constant. It is a continuing reaction to movements for change. The methods and degree depend on the context of the movement and it’s moment. Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” The 45th president’s Muslim ban sounds a lot like the Alien & Sedition Acts of the early 1800s. The FBI’s CoIntelPro operations against the Black Panther Party dubbed “Black Extremists” and “Black Nationalist Hate Groups” sounds a lot like the FBI’s BLM investigations of “Black Identity Extremists”. The fire hoses used against civil rights era marchers looked a lot like the fire hoses used against NoDAPL protesters in 2016.
'There are a few key ways the repression has evolved that I think it behooves us to keep track of. One is the further encroachment of private security contractors into law enforcement operations. This is troubling for many reasons, but foremost that private security agencies aren’t bound by the same laws and regulations as the police. Your rights exist to protect you from the state, so as long as private security, a non-state actor, is within the law it has no obligation to your rights. For example, TigerSwan Security ran intelligence gathering operations during the NoDAPL protests and those whose first amendment activity was chilled due to their investigation had less recourse.
'Another rising tendency is “counterinsurgency policing” or COIN. COIN is primarily about a battle for legitimacy. It is more like a “hearts and minds” occupation characterized by social mapping of communities and information management. For example, after the uprising last summer law enforcement didn’t try to identify “leaders” to hold accountable. Instead they tried to wedge off a group of “bad actors” that they could prosecute to both chill ever encroaching types of street action, and also paint themselves as necessary to “maintain order”. This continued throughout the past year with the constant drone about the need for more money for more officers to fight an increase in violent crime in the city. A narrative directly in conflict with the defund/dismantle/abolish conversations happening on the street.'
3. How do Activist Solidarity Tactics result in better court/jail outcomes (Or how do ASTs build the power of movements)?
'The tactics can lead to better legal outcomes, for example, by everyone being released from jail without bail because everyone refuses to post bail and the jails overflow. But, the greatest impact is in the movements, communities and individuals who successfully wield these tactics. Once you have seen that you have the power to force more powerful agents to do what you want, the realm of possibility expands. '
4. What similarities/differences do you see between the state's response to say, the Standing Rock and Line 3 protests; the uprisings and protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, the 2008 RNC in St. Paul, vs the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. capitol?
'This is why I think the framework of repression is so helpful. It isn’t just because the January 6th actors were white that led to them being treated more gently, it was because they were/are a regressive force pushing to keep things the same. In that sense there is less need to repress them. Sure, the state wants them out of the capital building, but their white supremacist and culturally supremacist ideas are totally in line with the standard operating procedures of America.
'Throughout history forces resistant to change have always said “we are a nation of laws” up until following the law would create an existential threat to their power, social order, or world view. Then it is the “duty of every patriot to rebel against trinity.” It isn’t a double standard, it is a logic that prioritizes the maintaining of control by the white property owning class. It is consistent in this.'
5 Last thoughts?
'The key to solidarity is relationships, and some amount of vulnerability and trust. It can be hard to be open when you feel under attack. That is part of what the system counts on. Understand that being vulnerable with each other might feel risky sometimes, but it is also the source of our greatest collective strength. This is true throughout movements for change. I would note that knowing how to be strong through vulnerability is generally a “soft skill” or a skill that is “feminized” in our patriarchal society. In that way, choosing to walk a path of strength through vulnerability is an act against cis-heteropatriarchy. It is also a power that doesn’t fit the traditional patriarchal/military worldview, and is more likely to be invisible and unplanned for by repressive forces.
LRC staff include attorneys and advocates from a range of background and lived experiences.
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