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Old sentencing laws need updating
Patty Leon new

This past Friday I watched as former Minneapolis Police Officer, Derek Chauvin, was sentenced to 22.5 years for the killing of George Floyd. The judge acknowledged the Floyd family’s pain but added his decision was based on the facts, evidence and case law – not emotions or public influence.

I have mixed feeling about this sentence. We all know there are people currently incarcerated for a longer period of time for lesser offenses than those committed by Chauvin. Low level drug traffickers, some of who are serving life sentences. While I’m not condoning any type of criminal activity as being okay or acceptable, it’s just that the penalties don’t always fit the crime. 

In this case George Floyd’s family is the one serving a life sentence. Their son, father, brother will never return. Chauvin on the other hand will likely be eligible for parole in 10-15 years and if he proves to be a model prisoner, may be eligible for early release. 

On the other hand, Judge Peter Cahill could have merely sentenced Chauvin to time served and parole. At the very least he handed out a much lengthier sentence than most expected and sent a message that rouge police officers will pay for the consequences of their actions. 

And before the crowd goes nuts, officers like Chauvin, who abuse their power, are few and far between. I’ve been around law enforcement officers, many who were among my best friends in Miami, my whole life. The officers I know are truly committed to serving their community. They should be praised for their jobs. They deserve respect and honor. They don’t deserve to have their names or reputation smeared by the few bad apples who abuse the system.

There are three other officers awaiting trial for the death of Floyd. On Friday they learned there is a strong possibility they will spend time in jail too.

Chauvin and defendants Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, have been charged federally in connection with Floyd’s death as well. The men are accused of using excessive force and violating the civil rights of Floyd.  

As some have stated, this sentence is a good start. But more still needs to be done.

As a teenager I used to watch a TV crime show called “Baretta.”

The lyrics in the theme song, sung by the late great Sammy Davis Jr., said, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time!”

We need to take a better look at sentencing laws and bring some antiquated laws into the 21st century.

For example, Fate Winslow was arrested in 2008 in Louisiana and was sentenced to life in prison for selling $20 worth of marijuana.

LIFE SENTENCE for $20 worth of weed!

He was finally freed from prison in December 2020. He lost 12 years of his life for $20 worth of weed.

In a similar case military veteran Derek Harris was also arrested in 2008, also in Louisiana and was sentenced to life in prison for selling $30 worth of weed. He was expected to be freed in 2020. Coincidentally, both men are African Americans.

These sentences make no sense. 

I can understand when you have someone like drug Lord El Chapo, getting slapped with a life sentence, but life in prison for petty crimes worth $50 combined?

That’s ridiculous. For these two men the worst-case scenario should have been just a few months in prison or be placed on probation. 

According to a study done by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2014, there are significant racial disparities in sentencing decisions in the United States. It stated:

“Sentences imposed on Black males in the federal system are nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. Black and Latino offenders sentenced in state and federal courts face significantly greater odds of incarceration than similarly situated white offenders and receive longer sentences than their white counterparts in some jurisdictions. Black male federal defendants receive longer sentences than whites arrested for the same offenses and with comparable criminal histories. Research has also shown that race plays a significant role in the determination of which homicide cases result in death sentences.”

And here we have a white male, former police officer, who was supposed to abide by the law, and protect and serve, sentenced to only 22.5 years for killing a man.

It shouldn’t matter that Floyd had a criminal past. 

Chauvin was a cop, not judge, jury and executioner. 

Floyd was already handcuffed. The entire world watched Floyd go limp, yet Chauvin kept pressing his knee, as if in defiance of the public who pleaded with him to stop.

Hopefully, he will get sentenced for his federal crimes to run consecutively to his state sentence and not concurrent. 

He committed a crime, was given a fair trial and now he needs to do the time!

-Patty Leon

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