The definition of justice: “just behavior or treatment.”
The definition of accountability: “the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility.”
In the wake of the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin last week, a question was asked. Was the conviction of Chauvin on all three counts justice, or was it accountability?
In many ways, it was both. Chauvin was held accountable for his actions, and justice for George Floyd was granted in that Chauvin will never be in the position he was that day less than a year ago.
In other ways, though, many people – leaders in the government, in the black community and even in our own backyards – have acknowledged there can be no justice if acts of violence against minorities continue.
On April 20, press releases from numerous state politicians made their way through the internet. The Rev. Al Sharpton, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, Gov. Tim Walz and even Minnesota State Auditor Julie Blaha issued a thought, almost in unison.
For there to be true justice and for America to truly change, meaningful police reforms need to take place. Change is never easy, and nowhere will it be more obvious than in our response to the death of George Floyd.
So many of our law enforcement officers are wonderful and just individuals. While they work to enforce the letter of the law, they also have to display humanity and compassion – working to keep our communities safe for everyone. They literally put their lives on the line each and every day they go to work, knowing they may not make it home.
Make no mistake. Most law enforcement officers successfully and diligently do their jobs. But when the humanity and compassion are not evident, and when mistakes happen, we arrive at a moment like what happened on Memorial Day 2020.
Since that day, lessons have been learned. Frustrations have been aired. Changes have been proposed – some logical, others less so.
Where do we go from here? In the aftermath of Chauvin’s conviction last week, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act made national news. It may – or may not – be the answer.
On its surface, it says it will address lowering the criminal intent standard for law enforcement officers, limit qualified immunity in private civil action, authorizes the Department of Justice to issue subpoenas in investigations of police departments for patterns or practice of discrimination, and creates a national registry – the National Police Misconduct Registry – to compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct.
It seems like a framework of common sense that should already be in place.
We need law enforcement, but we also need justice. And we need accountability, for everyone.
Whether we will get it moving forward is anyone’s guess.