What’s up everybody, it’s Uptown Serg, and these are my thoughts on the Derek Chauvin sentencing.
As a human rights activist who came into being while incarcerated, my natural inclination is to approach the fight for human rights from the perspective of a prisoner. Therefore, much of my commentary and criticism have been directed at law enforcement, judges, and prison policies.
As we speak, large-scale campaigns are being waged against harsh sentencing practices, which has traditionally been exercised on the black, brown, and poor communities. Our message has been clear. We believe that America has a merciless reliance and addiction to punishment. Consequently, as we work to challenge this impulse to punish, we do so with an emphasis on principles such as mercy, empathy, and compassion, because we understand that restoration is just as if not more important than revenge.
So, as of today, June 25th, 2021, we also find ourselves in the thick of an ideological conundrum. Specifically, Derek Chauvin, the disgraced Minneapolis police officer who murdered George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for nearly 10 minutes straight. Historically, we understand that police officers are rarely arrested and charged for the extrajudicial murder of black citizens. And it’s even more of a rare occurrence if a cop is convicted, which is why Derek Chauvin’s arrest and conviction came as a surprise and relief to the black community.
But as we all stood with bated breath, awaiting the judge’s order, I quietly found myself hoping that the judge imposed the harshest sentence possible. After all, this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the moment when a cop is finally held accountable for abusing their position of power. It felt like the black community had the rare opportunity to strike back at a bully who had been getting the best of us for so long.
Later, however, I took the chance to appreciate my feelings in private, and I felt that knot in the pit of my stomach, because I was confronted by a troubling realization, one that all activists must also confront. If we indeed seek to end mass incarceration, how can we as human rights activists seek to impose hard sentences against anybody, even our adversaries, while we criticize those who impose these very same sentences on us?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that accountability doesn’t matter, nor am I claiming that an arraigned police officer is on par with black citizens struggling to survive within impoverished neocolonies. What I am saying, though, is that the time to extend grace and mercy is when the situation dictates that one is unquestionably justified to do the exact opposite. While many people find satisfaction in the 22 and a half years received, we need to understand that if we’re okay with this, we unwittingly give our approval for the continuation of this vicious cycle of abuse.
Now is the time to pivot towards those principles of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, maybe not exactly with this case but within the larger context of our struggle, because this isn’t about a rogue police officer. This is about a rogue system.
Thanks for listening. I’m Uptown Serg, and you can follow me on @uptownserg and read more about our struggle for human rights online at hrcoalition.org.
These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.