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CRIME

Young adults in R.I. believe ex-officer is responsible for death of George Floyd

Students at the state’s many colleges and universities agree that Derek Chauvin should be held responsible. The question they differ on: What should come next?

Demonstrators gathered outside the Rhode Island State House on June 6 during a Black Lives Matter protest in Providence, R.I.
Demonstrators gathered outside the Rhode Island State House on June 6 during a Black Lives Matter protest in Providence, R.I.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

KINGSTON — Audrey Swanson agrees with many young adults in Rhode Island: Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin should be held responsible for the death of George Floyd.

“I do think Derek Chauvin is responsible for the death of George Floyd,” said Swanson, 20, from North Kingstown and a junior psychology major at the University of Rhode Island. “I think the other officers on the scene are partially responsible as well.” Chauvin, who arrested Floyd in May 2020 after a convenience store employee suspected Floyd had paid with a counterfeit bill, knelt on the 46-year-old man’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd repeatedly told the officers he could not breathe. During Chauvin’s trial, witnesses testified that they pleaded with Chauvin to stop but the officer “seemed as if he didn’t care what we were saying,” as Floyd lost consciousness and died.

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“There was a man being killed,” said Genevieve Hansen, a firefighter who testified that she was prevented from giving any medical assistance or telling the police how to help Floyd. “I would have been able to provide medical attention to the best of my abilities,” she said on the stand. “And this human was denied that right.”

Michael Andrews, 20, of Cranston, a junior sociology major at Rhode Island College, also said he thinks Chauvin is responsible for Floyd’s death.

“Absolutely,” said Andrews. “It doesn’t take a doctor to know that having a knee pressed into your neck for minutes on end is bad for one’s health. It’s either full-on murder at worst or incredibly gross negligence at best.”

Many young adults say they hope the trial leads to more effective reform in police departments and less brutality.

“Its significance can’t be understated,” said Andrews.

Chauvin, who was fired as a result of Floyd’s death, is charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. In Minnesota, second-degree murder can be punishable by up to 40 years in prison, while third-degree murder can be punishable by up to 25 years.

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In Rhode Island, some say they think those charges are not enough.

“I think the charges are lackluster and show the hesitancy our society feels toward accurately assessing the bad behaviors of police officers,” said Swanson. “The charges of second- [and] third-degree murder or manslaughter seem a bit gracious for the horrible and unnecessary death that was brought upon Floyd.”

Max Ludwig, 20, a junior political science and journalism double major at URI who is from Maynard, Mass., said that the charges are “the best considering the circumstances.”

“What will be interesting — and extremely important — to see is how harsh his sentence is, because we have seen in recent police killings that even if cops are found guilty, they are often let off the hook rather easily,” said Ludwig. He said that he wants to see Chauvin sentenced to at least 25 years in jail and be found guilty of the second-degree murder charge.

Kayce Carter, a Cranston resident and a student at the New England Institute of Technology, said she believes that the charges Chauvin is facing are enough.

“The charges as well as the bad publicity have and will be with him forever,” the 19-year-old design major said, explaining that media coverage shows how bad Chauvin’s actions were.

Swanson said that she would like to see the ex-police officer convicted, and also complete additional community work.

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“I struggle with the idea of jail because I fear it’s not productive or sustainable,” she said, “but I absolutely think Chauvin should have to reckon, one way or another, [with] what he’s done.”