That was in 2018. Now, as former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin waits to be sentenced for killing George Floyd, it's worth remembering what happened in Chicago after a jury convicted a white police officer in the shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald: The judge didn't follow prosecutors' recommended 18-20 years behind bars. Former officer Jason Van Dyke got a more lenient sentence — and might be released from prison in about three years.
It's possible things have changed. Floyd's horrific death touched off mass protests and calls for police reform that have rippled across the U.S. and in Congress. Chauvin could end up the exception, with a sentence of 30 years behind bars, particularly after the judge who will sentence him agreed Chauvin had committed particular cruelty in Floyd's death. But if history is any indication, a slam-dunk sentence is not guaranteed.
That was filmmaker Spike Lee's point when, shortly after the verdict, he said on CNN that he started worrying as soon as "I heard the judge would be the one would be the one that handed out the sentence." The jury, he said, "got it right, but we don't know what this judge ."
Much has been written about how rare it is for a police officer to be charged for an on-duty killing. Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green University criminal justice professor who tracks police prosecutions, has found that since 2005, just 142 non-federal police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter for on-duty shootings...