Jun 29, 2021

Derek Chauvin's sentence.

Derek Chauvin's sentence.

Plus, a question about the four-day work week.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

We examine reactions to the Derek Chauvin sentence. Plus, a question about four-day work weeks and some interesting numbers related to our main story.

Chad Davis Photography / Flickr

New podcast.

One of my favorite things to do is highlight heterodox thinkers: people who don’t fit cleanly into the political boxes you’d expect. And few people are as heterodox as Rabbi Mike Moskowitz, an ultra-orthodox Jew who is also… an outspoken LGTBQ ally. I’ve been following his work since we first met in Harlem six years ago, but finally got him to sit for a recorded interview last week where I peppered him with questions about why his faith has taken him to a different political place than so many others. It was a fascinating conversation.

You can listen to it by clicking here.(And while you’re there, please subscribe to our podcast and rate it 5 stars!)

Quick hits.

  1. Former President Trump’s attorneys met with New York prosecutors to argue that his company should not be criminally charged. (The Washington Post, subscription)
  2. A federal district judge dismissed the Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit arguing Facebook engaged in anti-competitive practices, a major win for the social media company. (Axios)
  3. Seattle is forecasted to smash its high temperature record by 7°F as a heat wave continues to roast the Pacific Northwest.
  4. The United States carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, once again setting off debate about the unchecked war powers of the president. (The New York Times, subscription)
  5. California has banned state-funded travel to 17 states it says are enacting dangerous and discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation. (Fox News)

What D.C. is talking about.

Derek Chauvin. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison on Friday for the murder of George Floyd. Chauvin was found guilty on April 20 of unintentional second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. His sentence was one of the longest ever given to a former police officer for using unlawful deadly force, according to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who prosecuted the case.

Minnesota law allows for a 40-year prison sentence for Chauvin’s crimes, but prosecutors sought a 30-year sentence, which is twice the upper limit for the sentencing guidelines. In his 22-page sentencing memo, Judge Peter Cahill acknowledged the prosecution’s argument that Chauvin acted with cruelty and abused his position of authority, which allowed him to give Chauvin a harsher sentence. The defense had asked for probation and unsuccessfully sought out a retrial (Chauvin is expected to appeal the verdict and the sentencing, and is still facing a civil lawsuit as well).

In Minnesota, inmates who are on good behavior spend two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the final third on supervised release, which means Chauvin could leave prison in 15 years.

George Floyd’s family reacted to the 22.5-year prison sentence by calling it a “slap on the wrist.”

“We were served a life sentence, we can’t get George back,” Floyd’s nephew Brandon Williams said. “I feel [Chauvin] should have received a life sentence as well.”

President Joe Biden reacted to the news by saying the sentence “seems to be appropriate.”

As news of the sentencing broke, reactions from the left and right were mixed, but there was a lot of common ground. Pundits on both sides felt the sentence was appropriate — or at least close to what they expected. Some, like CNN’s Van Jones, criticized it as “gut punch” that Chauvin did not get more than 22 years. Others focused on the work that needed to be done, and some celebrated the fact justice was served. Today, we’re going to break out of our usual format to just look at a collage of reactions — then my take.

Today, we’re going to break out of our usual format to look at those reactions — then my take.

The USA Today editorial board said the sentence “brought this tragic case to a welcome end,” but that much work remains.

“In the 13 months since Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, the nation has been forced to confront the fact that racial injustice remains deeply rooted in the American experience,” the board wrote. “Cities have made progress in providing alternatives to policing and in making policing itself less dangerous and more effective for the public… And yet, even as hard and necessary conversations and actions have taken place, police across the country killed 1,127 people last year, according to data collected by Mapping Police Violence. Nearly half of those killed (48%) were Black and Latino people, even though combined the two groups make up only 30% of Americans.

“The Chauvin case has ended with a just verdict and a fair sentence,” they said. “The essential work of ensuring racial justice very much remains.”

Before the sentence was even handed down, The Los Angeles Times editorial board decried the “ancient” need for retributive justice, “punishment for the sake of punishment,” and called on its readers to consider justice in the name of public safety.

“A growing body of evidence suggests that people convicted of murder acted in the spur of the moment and are extremely unlikely to commit that crime again, or any other (while people convicted of petty crimes are most likely to recidivate). And if that’s the case, why keep them behind bars?” the board asked. “Chauvin is no longer a police officer and will never again be in a position to arrest a suspect with deadly force under color of authority. Do we really need to keep him locked up until he is 75? 85? Is it justice to use the remainder of his life as a warning to other officers?

“Nor can we simply set Chauvin free, even if he is no danger to the rest of us, and no inspiration for other officers,” they wrote. “He committed murder, and did it in our names, on our behalf, in violation of our laws… There must be justice. There need not be unremitting, lifelong vengeance.”

In The National Review, Andrew McCarthy said the sentencing is “about what was expected.”

“That count, technically second-degree murder, was the count with the most severe potential sentence, 40 years by statute,” he wrote. “More consequential are the sentencing guidelines, which apply to the specific offender, based on aspects of offense conduct and criminal history. In the case of Chauvin, a first offender, the guidelines called for a sentence of about twelve and a half years. In addition to that, however, the prosecutors asked for judicial findings on exacerbating factors — Chauvin’s abuse of his position of trust, the unusual cruelty of his treatment of Floyd, and the fact that the action was witnessed by children. Judge Cahill duly found that all of these factors were present. That opened the door for him to exceed the guidelines range.

“Most informed observers figured that this would add about a decade to the guidelines sentencing recommendation,” McCarthy wrote. “That would be a strong nod in the state’s direction, while still factoring in Chauvin’s lack of criminal history and the fact that the encounter, at least at the start, was a lawful arrest during which Floyd resisted. That’s where [Judge] Cahill came out — 22 and a half years… This will be very hard time for the former cop. Chauvin is currently housed in Minnesota’s only maximum-security prison, on 23-hour lock-down. That is, he is alone in a ten-by-ten cell 23 hours per day, gets one hour of exercise, but must for his own safety be isolated from the general population of prisoners.”

In CNN, Elliot Williams wrote that the sentence does not resolve anything for him.

“In saying in their sentencing memo that ‘no sentence can undo the damage’ of Chauvin's actions, prosecutors could also have been describing our collective, grim knowledge that no criminal trial can absolve an entire nation's sins around race,” Williams wrote. “Floyd's death was a public reminder of that which I'm sure virtually every Black person in America is intimately aware: racism is real; inequities exist in the criminal justice system; even mundane encounters with law enforcement can quickly become deadly. That Floyd's death seemed to galvanize a national movement and multiracial protests brought others and me equal parts relief and frustration. Relief that finally people were starting to get it about what Black Americans are facing in the streets at the hands of police; frustration that it took an unarmed man's public slaughter for them to get there.

“Today's sentence is a reminder of something that first got into my head as a young prosecutor: ‘justice’ is a relative concept,” he added. “Over these months, I would cringe when I would see signs calling for ‘Justice for George Floyd.’ What would that even mean? Despite his 7-year-old daughter Gianna's heart-wrenching statement at the hearing about how Floyd lives on with her in spirit, no sentence can bring Floyd back to his family. Even under the best of circumstances, criminal sentences are the result of choices made by imperfect humans in legislatures, litigated by imperfect human prosecutors and defense attorneys, imposed by imperfect human judges.”

In The Washington Post, Keith Ellison — who prosecuted the case and sought 30 years— said we must act to break the cycle of mistrust between communities of color and law enforcement.

“Lawmakers must act,” he said. “Congress must pass the strongest version of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act it can. Don’t wait for the perfect bill when a meaningful first step is within reach… At the state level, legislatures should authorize attorneys general to conduct investigations into local law enforcement to bring to light any persistent patterns of misconduct within a given police department. State-based pattern-or-practice investigations — which critically involve both community members and police officers — have proved successful. If states don’t do that, Congress should make it possible for attorneys general to rely on federal authority to conduct these investigations.

“City councils and county boards must support reform-minded law enforcement leaders and, if necessary, use the power of the purse to compel reform by directing money toward progressive training and holding leadership accountable for outcomes,” he wrote. “We must also recognize that, too often, we ask police officers to solve problems they are neither trained nor intended to solve. We must provide people in crisis with comprehensive social services that law enforcement cannot provide, and we must also support officer wellness.”

In The Hill, James D. Zirin said that “no one will seriously argue that the 22 ½-year sentence meted out to police officer Derek Chauvin was too harsh.”

“After all, he was convicted of murder, and the maximum sentence under the law was 40 years in prison. Chauvin is 45 years old and will be 67 if he serves out his full sentence,” Zirin wrote. “As a legal matter, it is difficult to question that the sentence was appropriate. Trial judges, even where there are prescribed sentencing guidelines, have virtually unfettered discretion to fashion criminal sentences based on the background of the defendant, the possibly aggravated nature of the crime, the impact of the crime on the victim’s family and the vindication of the public interest. As Daniel Webster famously said, ‘Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man's life.’

“But the interpretation of this particular sentence, whether too lenient or too severe, will leave a lasting benchmark,” Zirin said. “Chauvin had a disciplinary history of police brutality and should not have been on the force in the first place. He stands indicted for another crime, a federal civil rights charge alleging that he slugged a 14-year-old with a flashlight and kneeled on him during a 2017 arrest…In the case of Chauvin, the evidence was incontrovertible. Cellphone videos by passersby recorded every second of the crime as Chauvin’s knee brutally choked out George Floyd’s life. The distinguishing feature about the case is not that a murder in custody happened but that it was so well documented as to be indisputable.”

My take.

My knee-jerk reaction to this story is a lust for the most severe punishment possible. Like a lot of Americans, I saw the video of George Floyd being killed and was infuriated and heartbroken. Throughout the trial, and the sentencing, I saw a convicted killer who did not seem particularly remorseful — instead, he was stoic and unflinching. And a lot of that made me want to see the judge, in this case, impose the longest sentence he could.

At the same time, throughout my adulthood, I have come to loathe our prison system. It is founded on retribution, not rehabilitation. It is built to accrue profits, not apportion justice. It is designed, explicitly, to break the backs of those who have committed crimes and return cruelty with cruelty. An eye for an eye. It is ancient, primitive and barbaric, and it is only getting better incrementally — bit by bit — thanks to the tireless work of people who recognize the gratuitousness of locking human beings in cages (and the absurdity of how much more often the United States does it than anyone else).

As a result, I’ve written strongly against the death penalty. I’ve decried mandatory minimum sentences and lengthy prison stays, which usually result in the formerly incarcerated returning to crime once they’re released. I’ve advocated for decriminalizing all sorts of things, including drugs and sex work. I’ve called on my readers to extend empathy to criminals, to people whose politics you find grotesque, to politicians who have flip-flopped, to people of color enduring a non-stop barrage of news stories and videos depicting Americans who look like them being brutalized by the police. And I’ve been criticized by many of you for being “lefty” or a “Libertarian” or some kind of pseudo-anarchist for digging my heels in on this issue. But I don’t think I’m following any political lead — I just think our prison system is broken and ineffective, and I try to lead with empathy, and continue to struggle to maintain a consistent ethical code.

And now I’m presented with Derek Chauvin. His case, in many ways, is different because he was an officer of the law — someone who was given our trust, our taxpayer dollars, a badge and a gun by the state, and then violated his oath. Crimes by cops feel worse than crimes by average citizens. I made the case for his conviction and celebrated it when it came. I believe that, by the law, he “got what he deserved.” But I’d be a hypocrite not to extend the same grace, even to a murderous cop, that I so frequently call on my readers to extend to others. While working under the assumption that forgiveness is good, I’d be a hypocrite not to attempt it, even (perhaps especially) for the kind of criminal I find most loathsome.

Is 22.5 years in prison “enough?” Sure. I guess. The largest measure of considerations has been sentencing guidelines, the Floyd family and the larger societal impact on policing. But no time can fill the hole left in their hearts or repair the damage done to the country thanks to Chauvin’s actions. The judge made a ruling that, given the crime committed (murder), the situation (in front of children) and the context (a cop abusing his power), the sentence should be well above the sentencing guidelines. It’s an art, not a science, but I think Judge Cahill did his job admirably.

And yet, I also want to be clear: putting Chauvin in prison won’t fix him. Prison won’t fix him any more than it will fix a 15-year-old who got caught up in a gang and committed an armed robbery, then served 20 years in prison, because prison doesn’t really fix people. Locking him in a 10x10 foot room for 23 hours a day will not change his worldview or improve his policing. It won’t fix us, either — it won’t usher in major policing reforms and it probably won’t calm the anger we feel toward a man who has hardly shown any penance or self-reflection. At best, this sentence will send a message to other officers on the job and may even prevent some cops from using deadly force when they don’t need to. But even the question of “deterrence” is an open one. Which is why the Los Angeles Times editorial board’s piece — saying the sentence “need not be unremitting, lifelong vengeance” — was so refreshing to read.

The infuriating truth is that lusting for a life sentence for Chauvin is inconsistent with my own values, and my knee-jerk reaction to want to see that is a reminder that emotion can so easily override one’s own moral code. Bad cops are bad, and prison is bad, but I truly don’t think more bad cops serving 40 years in bad prisons is going to help solve policing or much of anything in our country. Chauvin only got what he deserved in today’s context because so many others sitting in prison have gotten something they didn’t deserve. But I still hope, one day, we can move toward a future that embraces something more productive than throwing people in jail to address what ails us.

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Your questions, answered

Q: The Atlantic has an article on 4 day work weeks. Spain and others [are] even looking at incentives for companies that try it. Which party would oppose that here and why?

— Brent from Texas

Tangle: Honestly, I think both parties would oppose it. The first reason is cultural: Americans pride themselves on work ethic, and in recent years pulling “twelve-hour days” or “overnighters” has become a point of pride for a lot of young entrepreneurs, regardless of party affiliation. My suspicion is both Democrats and Republicans — who are both vying for the working class and business vote — would probably come out against such a proposition.

The second reason is economics: some studies have shown the shortened work week creates a lot of un-utilized labor. In the Netherlands, the shortened work week left 1.5 million people wanting to work more hours but unable to. Many businesses wouldn’t be able to participate (like the service industry or those that require a 24/7 presence). I think that is enough to scare off a lot of politicians who are very economically oriented.

All this being said, if I had to pick, I’d say it’s more likely Republicans oppose it and Democrats embrace it. I think the “America works hard” culture is probably more embedded in conservative politics, as is centering economic productivity (many of the auxiliary arguments to 4-day work weeks are about environmental benefits, improving mental health, team building, quality of life, etc).

I’ll be interested to see if this becomes a thing, though. There is no doubt some places have demonstrated an increase in worker productivity during shorter weeks, and it’s possible that the four-day work week becomes something that could even unite politicians across party lines. If you asked me, I would absolutely get behind an extra weekend day and one fewer day of work (even though I love my job). But I have no idea what the broader impacts would be on the economy and the country, and those implications could change my mind.

Want your question answered in Tangle? Simply reply to this email and write in, or go fill out this form.

A story that matters.

The United States is planning to rush a bipartisan vote through Congress in order to help Afghans who face retribution for working alongside American troops in their home country. The House is scheduled to vote on Tuesday to speed up the process of helping withdraw 18,000 Afghans who helped the U.S. working as interpreters, drivers, engineers, security and embassy clerks, according to The New York Times. With U.S. troops set to withdraw by September 11, many Afghan allies here have been outspoken about the threats they are facing from the Taliban. “This is a moral imperative for our nation,” Representative Jason Crow, Democrat of Colorado, a former Army Ranger, said. “We have to honor our promises to our partners. We’re going to debate Afghanistan for decades to come and what lessons we learned, but we do know we can do things with honor for the next few weeks.” (The New York Times, subscription)


  • 30%. The percentage of Americans who believe Derek Chauvin should face the maximum sentence of 40 years, according to an April poll by UMass Amherst.
  • 2%. The percentage of Americans who said he should receive 1-10 years.
  • 17%. The percentage of Americans who said he should receive 11-20 years.
  • 17%. The percentage of Americans who said he should receive 21-23 years.
  • 11%. The percentage of Americans who said he should face 31-39 years in prison.
  • 4%. The percentage who said he should not face any prison time.


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Have a nice day.

Honda has built a shoe designed to help the visually impaired get where they’re going. The device, made by the startup accelerator Ashirase, is an in-shoe navigation system that vibrates based on routes set in a smartphone app. The left side of the device will vibrate to turn left, while the toes vibrate to maintain a forward trajectory. Creators behind the device hope that it can one day replace the walking cane as a way to help people navigate down the street or through crowded areas. (Jalopnik)

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