Minnesota authorities have announced the upgraded charge against the police officer who knelt on unarmed Mr George Floyd. Previously the charge was third-degree murder, which was arguably less likely to succeed, as US case law states that third-degree murder cannot occur where the actions of the accused were focused on a specific person, which is what happened here. The charge has now been more appropriately upgraded to second-degree murder.
Under Section 609.19 Subd (2) of the Minnesota Statutes:
Whoever does either of the following is guilty of unintentional murder in the second degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than 40 years:
The vile nature in which this man, an officer of the law, arrested an innocent man and then proceeded to kill him with seeming indifference, would likely result in the obtainment of a severe sentence.
Some available defences include innocence, insanity and self-defence. However, given the distressing video footage that has become viral on the internet of Mr Floyd’s death, it is unlikely that any of these defences will be available to Mr Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Mr Floyd’s neck.
The other three police officers that were present and effectively enabled this murder have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The first offence also has 40 years of imprisonment as the maximum sentence, whilst the second count has 10 years imprisonment as the maximum sentence. Remember, these former police officers had come to the area after reports of a customer using a fake $20 note. Their inaction alone resulted in the death of an innocent man. They each had literally minutes to get their colleague off Mr Floyd’s neck. They didn’t bother despite being told by the arrested man he couldn’t breathe, or onlookers calling for more humane treatment of Mr Floyd.
It is uncertain the extent to which this news will calm the protests that have spread across the United States, which some have now called the Divided States. Even in our own backyard, hundreds marched through Sydney’s CBD in support of the protests in the US over the brutal senseless death of Mr Floyd. The Sydney protests commenced around 5pm this Tuesday, with hundreds of people yelling “Black Lives Matter”, as well as “I can’t breathe” as they walked to Martin Place.
The Sydney march was also intended to reflect the excess of 400 indigenous deaths in Australian Police custody since 1991. This statistic reflects a similar tragic reality in our own nation and reflects a systematic injustice that has been allowed to exist for decades by the inaction or insufficient action taken by our leaders.
Every society is to be judged by how it treats the most marginalized members within it, including those accused of the worst crimes and minorities. By such a standard, Australia, as well as the US, have a long way to go.