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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

Spokane reacts to Derek Chauvin’s 22-year sentence in George Floyd’s death

UPDATED: Tue., June 29, 2021

Police in riot gear maintain an uneasy standoff with crowds of protesters on May 31, 2020, outside the Spokane County Courthouse during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.  (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Police in riot gear maintain an uneasy standoff with crowds of protesters on May 31, 2020, outside the Spokane County Courthouse during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (JESSE TINSLEY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Spokane residents followed the nation’s urge to protest the murder of George Floyd last summer, and now activist Kurtis Robinson and other members of the community sort through a bag of emotions regarding former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s sentencing Friday for the killing.

Chauvin was sentenced to 22½ years after being found guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

On Chauvin’s sentencing day, people gathered at East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue of Minneapolis’ Powderhorn Park. It’s where Floyd took his last breath under Chauvin’s knee after being accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill.

Robinson, a Spokane resident since 2011, looks at the situation from a layered lens. He’s mindful of the guilty verdict, but he’s also aware of the larger landscape. Nothing will bring Floyd back, he said, and justice looks different for every American.

“It’s a big day because somebody is finally getting held accountable,” Robinson said. “But it’s still just one thing in a whole series of police and BIPOC dynamics for far too long. (Sentencing) should’ve never been asked for. It should have been the standard.”

As the country held its breath, Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill delivered the sentence that was eight years shorter than Chauvin’s maximum sentence of 30 years. With good behavior, he can be released in 15 years, two-thirds of the 22½ year sentence.

“This is based on your abuse of a position of trust and authority,” Cahill said during the sentencing. “But also the particular cruelty shown to George Floyd.”

That on-camera cruelty toward Floyd in his last moments ignited a nationwide spark for protests demanding an end to racial injustice.

“We don’t want to see no more slaps on the wrist. We’ve been through that already,” said Terrence Floyd, one of Floyd’s brothers, in a testimony before the sentencing. Members of the Floyd family asked for the maximum penalty.

Terrance Floyd’s “we” is likely referring to George’s grieving family, but Americans who flooded summer streets protesting share the sentiment. Many wanted to see justice prevail in the case, with chants calling for Chauvin to be jailed in the violent incident.

Robinson currently serves as the first vice president of Spokane’s NAACP Chapter, alongside President Kiantha Duncan. He’s been the executive director for “I Did The Time” since 2015. The nonprofit works to end mass incarceration and even out the bumpy road to life after prison.

“I have a real problem with feeling good about anybody that’s getting sent to our incarcerable system,” Robinson said. “Especially with the way it’s historically operated and operates today.”

The issues regarding police violence grip the Spokane community differently. According to a study by the research group Mapping Police Violence,  Spokane Police Department is the third deadliest police force in America based on population, coming second to only St. Louis’ and Oklahoma City’s police departments.

Washington activist Anwar Peace thinks the national cry for justice should transform all police interactions, especially in Spokane. After listening to Floyd’s cousin and brother’s testimonies, it reminded him of the lives lost in interactions with SPD.

“(Spokane) families are grieving the loss of life and have not found any justice,” Peace said. “The Spokane community should know there’s a huge problem with the use of force here, and not some place far away in Minneapolis.”

Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, the three Minneapolis police officers on the scene with Chauvin, are facing charges in aiding and abetting second-degree murder. That sentence carries 40 years.

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.

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