In various places on the internet, people have said that 22 years is not enough of a sentence for Chauvin after his murder of Floyd, since serving as little as 10 more years is possible. I am nearly or maybe actually a prison abolitionist in the longer term*1, but I mostly agree with this given our current laws, practices, and resources. 270 months is a LONG time. Where I differ is that (with what I know now, and understanding this might change if Chauvin himself changes) I want him in prison until at least the age of 65 for the safety of the community, and under supervision until the age of 75. That would require a sentence of over 30 years, minimum, assuming that parole boards made (what I currently think would be) appropriate decisions regarding early release. The 30 gets us supervision until age 75, but even that does not give a strong guarantee of release at or about age 65.
Now I justify this in significant part on the fact that he appears to still believe he did nothing wrong. If he does not believe he did anything wrong, he is much more likely to commit another violent crime. But one person over at Wonkette added an additional argument beyond just community safety and lack of remorse for a sentence longer than 270 months:
Most murderers who are convicted of such a deliberate murder would have gotten something closer to life.
Here I disagree. Take this, for instance:
Women receive harsher sentences for killing their male partners than men receive for killing their female partners.
The average prison sentence of men who kill their female partners is 2 to 6 years.
Women who kill their partners are sentenced on average to 15 years, despite the fact that most women who kill their partners do so to protect themselves from violence initiated by their partners.
This is the ACLU’s summation of an NCADV sponsored & published study from 1989. I remember that NCADV study well since in the mid 90s a friend of mine did follow up qualitative work on the sentencing factors considered by the courts in such cases. While the data are old, the ACLU article that includes this summary of the study is from 2006 or 2007, originally, and as I consider them a reliable source, I’m of the opinion (unless or until better/newer data come along) that those sentencing trends were likely to still be true in the mid 00s.
The truth is that most murders are not punished so severely. Even the 22.5 years Chauvin got for his specific crime in his specific state included an upward departure from sentencing guidelines of ten years.
I write all this not because I believe that 22.5 years is a harsh sentence (though prison conditions in the US are unusually and cruelly harsh), after all, I’ve said clearly that I want him under some form of supervision until the age of 75.
No, I just want people to understand,
1) that domestic violence murders are often among the most cruel and hateful and torturous murders you can find,
2) DV murders are typically dealt with as manslaughters, even with vast evidence of premeditation & patterns of violence
3) 22.5 years is in fact a longer than usual sentence compared to other deliberate murders and even compared to deliberately cruel murders, indicating that the legal community isn’t taking this lightly, even if the non legal community subjectively feels 22.5 years isn’t very long or isn’t enough or something similar
4) the law absolutely SUCKS in figuring out which murders should be punished more harshly, what with how they give women who kill aggressively violent men those women reasonably fear will kill them not a strongly self defense mitigated sentence, but a vastly enhanced sentence.
Our entire system is trained to think of some murderers as less deserving of punishment and some victims as less deserving of justice. This is baked the fuck in.
1) deny Chauvin a plea bargain,
2) convict on the most serious charge available
3) impose a sentence that is an upward departure from sentencing guidelines
is manifestly unusual for a white person murdering a black suspect in the course of the white person’s law enforcement duties to get such a sentence.
Every instinct of the USA criminal justice system is to treat cops with more lenience, whites with more lenience, and Black persons with less respect to their human value.
In the abstract, I am not happy with the sentence because I have specific goals in mind about ensuring community safety knowing that this man is trained to use a gun and 60 and 70 year olds with training have no more difficulty using a gun than average 30 or 40 year olds. This guy is fucking dangerous, and I want the government to act to prevent that danger from again manifesting.
But in the real world, this is a sentence that we should be happy about. From denial of plea bargain to the aggravating factors considered at sentencing, this is what we have been aiming at from the start: Floyd’s death was not minimized, Chauvin’s culpability was not minimized, and Chauvin’s ongoing threat to the community was not minimized.
We can’t get back Floyd. Nor can we unvictimize all the people who have been traumatized by Chauvin, but this is how a justice system should operate: constrained by the law as it exists, but taking all persons and all factors seriously in a way that has been (and continues to be) too rare.
*1: Discussing abolishing the police, not prisons, the next mayor of Buffalo (she’s won the primary & no Republican is expected to stand a chance in the general), India Walton, gave an interview to the Intercept. They wrote it up like this (in part):
“I am an abolitionist. But I am also realistic enough to know that it can’t happen in one fell swoop. Because we have not built the infrastructure to maintain safety in our communities,” Walton told The Intercept. She acknowledged that her approach has earned criticism from the activist community, adding, “I do tend to be a bit more pragmatic in the way I view things. Governance means that sometimes you don’t always get to do what you believe.”
But in the long haul, Walton said, an abolitionist future “is ultimately the world that I envision for my children — where folks just care for and about one another, and we don’t need police.”
I am open to complete abolition of prisons, but I’m also open to keeping a very, very select few behind bars if, in the context of a vastly improved society, research shows that there are still some people who cannot be prevented from harming people in the community without incarceration for the period of rehabilitation. I believe that in a better society most rehabilitation will be able to be accomplished without incarceration, but I understand both the limits of my knowledge and the limits of imposing a solution like prison abolition without dramatically improving education, social services, the safety net, etc. I do not believe doing away with all policing tomorrow, or even ever, since someone will need to investigate crimes even if they become very rare. But I do think we can manage today with many fewer police than we have, and I believe that with structural changes to society we can manage with even fewer than that.
Call me a pragmatic idealist.