Justice system in US imposes accountability

Published on this page June 21, 2020, titled “Without police, who will you call for help?” I addressed “the shocking killing of George Floyd … by a Minneapolis police officer while three other policemen stood by and watched.” While the op-ed addressed the ongoing violence in the streets and the call by Black Lives Matter to defund the police, a call which persists, the piece offered a prediction that has now been realized.

Ten months ago, this is what I wrote: “The offending policemen have been charged. They will enter a plea or go to trial before a jury or a judge. Based on the video alone, it seems inconceivable that the officers will not be convicted and sentenced to prison. The cases will be resolved in accordance with law by a criminal justice system that will impose accountability.” A jury of former officer Derek Chauvin’s peers returned verdicts of guilty on second- and third-degree murder, and manslaughter on April 20. This is justice pursuant to law. The other three officers have been charged and await trial.

The justice system imposed accountability, and that is how America has done it, albeit imperfectly, for multiple generations. Justice for all, and accountability, do not spring forth from violence in the streets, destruction and looting of businesses, burning cities and killing and injuring of our fellow citizens. That is mob anarchy. The two should not be confused. Yet, some seem confused.

An Associated Press news article from April 21 said this about the jury’s unanimous verdicts: “The verdict — guilty on all counts, in a clear cut victory for Floyd’s supporters — set off jubilation tinged with sorrow around the city.” Those “supporters” included peaceful and violent men and women. Some pundits and others are suggesting that without the protests in the streets, or the threat of further protests, the defendant may not have been convicted.

It is a serious mistake to credit the violent mob rather than the 12-member jury, the prosecutors, investigators, lay, police and expert witnesses called to testify, and certainly the video taken by a young woman that tells the story. It is wrong to credit those that resort to violence and destruction, as opposed to our criminal justice system, for the guilty verdicts. The rule of law prevailed, and not the rule of violence in the streets.

A danger exists if this twisted narrative persists. What about the next case when a white police officer is charged with shooting or killing an unarmed black man? Must street violence, burning and looting, and injuring the police and others be a prerequisite to any successful prosecution? Will elected officials and activists feel free to incite the mob to confrontation in the streets if the jury in that case doesn’t get it right?

Our criminal justice system is the same one that ensures protections of due process and adherence to the rule of law whether the defendant is a white police officer charged with killing a black man, or a black man charged with killing a white police officer. Justice and accountability are best found in the courts of law and not the violent streets.

Patrick M. McLaughlin is a former United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.



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