What does accountability mean?

In the past few years accountability has become a leading buzzword but I figured I’d start at the true definition. According to Merriam-Webster, accountability is defined as:

the quality or state of being accountable especially an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions

From this definition it seems like being accountable involves being in a position of leadership or authority and doing the right things because of willingness to accept the responsibility of how your actions turn out. Whether there are good or bad outcomes, this implies that inaction should also be praised or punished. Accountability refers to actions and feelings after an event has happened, but justice refers to possible prevention of those activities from happening in the first place. It seems that there is both a lack of justice and accountability because of a variety of bad apples.

The saying “a few bad apples” whenever there’s a police shooting has always bothered me because the full saying is “a few bad apples spoil the barrel”. The idea that a few people can operate on the wrong side of the law is in direct conflict with the accountability of the entire organization. Even if those bad apples exist, the entity should be able to weed them out and provide consequences or repercussions. Otherwise they become complicit in the wrongdoing and the average person loses faith in the entire spoiled barrel.

Two things jump out at me straight away after the Derek Chauvin verdict. The first is how did we get to this point where we don’t always expect accountability? No entity is ever going to be perfect, and corruption does exist, but the data skews so far in the opposite direction of what you would expect of an entity paid for and ultimately accountable to taxpayers. That’s not even taking into account gerrymandering, voter suppression such as suspicious new voting laws in Georgia, and countless other tactics employed by our elected officials. How did we get to the point that people put into positions of power not only disregard accountability but feel no obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for how their actions impact the citizens and constituents that pay their salaries?

The second is what comes next? When does actual reform of this system take place? When do we address qualified immunity? When do we address that Chauvin and four other officers felt it was completely okay to kneel on a human being’s neck despite it not being part of their training? Speaking of which, how do we train officers on the difference between a taser and a gun? Lastly, if we decide that the training isn’t working, how do we redistribute police funding to create new entities that can show up on the scene with empathy, compassion and without the compulsion to shoot first and ask questions later?

After all, a few bad apples spoil the barrel.

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Author of The Powers That Be

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