Photo by Olivier Collet on Unsplash
Photo by Olivier Collet on Unsplash

Although the 22.5-year prison sentence given to former police officer Derek Chauvin may not have satisfied George Floyd’s family — who wanted the maximum sentence of 40 years — it was reasonable enough to prevent the wide-scale protesting that may have occurred had he received a mere slap on the wrist. 

But at East Jersey State Prison, inmates and officers alike seemed to agree that his sentence did not solve the problem of police brutality. Many inmates felt that the only way to deliver a strong message would have been if Chauvin had received the maximum sentence. 

“I expected Chauvin to get some time, but regarding the problem of police brutality, all I expect is continued deterioration,” said Morris Andrews, a fellow inmate here.

“The Chauvin verdict does not mean a lot,” commented one officer who asked to remain anonymous. “I’m glad he was convicted, but the system is bigger than this trial.”

Edward Fairley, also an inmate at EJSP, said Chauvin should have received a harsher sentence. “All I have to say is that I was sentenced to 21 years, and I did not take anyone’s life,” Fairley said.

In a discussion regarding the nature of policing, people spoke about how defunding the police would not solve the problem of violence by the police especially against young Black men. They said police departments needed to stop viewing residents in the neighborhoods they patrol as potential crime suspects. 

One civilian employee of the prison, who lives in New Jersey’s suburbs, said quite a few law enforcement officers lived in his neighborhood and that where he is, the police were more likely to bring his sons to him if they were caught doing something wrong, rather than arrest them. By contrast, none of the inmates there had police officers as neighbors, and they admitted to feeling apprehensive whenever they interacted with the police.

Chauvin should consider himself lucky when compared to George Floyd, the man he killed over a $20 bill. Floyd did not deserve the death penalty, even if he was guilty of using a counterfeit bill. The double standard in policing suggests he might have been offered a bottle of water to ease his panic — so long as he was White.

 
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.

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M. Yayah Sandi

M. Yayah Sandi is a writer at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, N.J., where he is serving a 25-year sentence. He requested that his first name be withheld.