Tuesday’s jury verdict — that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin committed murder — makes it clear that the life of George Floyd, another unarmed Black man, mattered. It is a powerful message that police officers who abuse their authority should be held accountable.
But even on the rare occasions when the prosecution wins, it is not enough. Criminal liability is merely a starting point. Achieving justice requires much more than merely punishing responsible officers.
While obtaining convictions are essential, our goal should be to prevent these deaths in the first place. Law enforcement must collectively ask what they can do differently to better serve our communities. If we do not reimagine how we conceive of public safety, we are destined to keep repeating the same mistakes.
Though much of the harm affecting communities stems from decisions of individuals, many more harms are baked into the system itself. Even when there is not intentional discrimination, there can be disparate outcomes that undermine the justice and accountability our communities need. This gets to the heart of what systemic racism is: policies, procedures or systems that lead to disparately negative effects for communities of color, regardless of the intent of the actors.
She was committed to ensuring that her office works to confront bias — whether intentional or not. Wilson wanted to use her own data to understand unique local drivers of inequality and address these root causes. Justice Innovation Lab is currently working with her office on improving prosecutorial screening to dismiss and divert more cases out of the criminal system and to reduce racial disparities in charging and incarceration.
For me, true justice requires not only looking backward and holding individuals responsible for their decisions, but looking forward and asking, can we create a better system where we can achieve public safety and treat all communities with respect?
Floyd’s murder once again shines a harsh light on systems of injustice. We have a collective responsibility to do better.