On Tuesday, former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd. As President Joe Biden said, this verdict is a step forward. It symbolizes a turning point: that we as a society can and should demand accountability when police officers use excessive force. And it is a first step in parts of our government recognizing the racial inequities that plague our criminal justice system.

But mortal justice cannot ever be delivered to the victim once they are dead. This verdict will not bring George Floyd back, and it certainly will not cure the systemic racism in our criminal justice system. There is still much work to do and no excuse for not starting that work right now.

The question is where our efforts should turn next. On a weekly, even daily basis, police kill unarmed Black men and women. Last week, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old father, was shot and killed just 10 miles from where the jury reached a verdict. On Tuesday afternoon—the same day Chauvin was charged—Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old girl, was fatally shot outside of her home after calling the police for help.

Americans are searching for answers. How do we truly reform policing and reckon with racism in our country?

One way, of course, is to respond when misconduct does occur—what can be considered back-end accountability. When something goes wrong in policing, it is crucial that we are not complacent. Certainly, police unions, the qualified immunity doctrine and other features of our legal system have made it difficult to “police the police.” And reforming these features of our system will mean that we will be able to hold officers like Derek Chauvin accountable when they improperly and recklessly take life and liberty.

Reform, however, must also focus on front-end accountability, ensuring that we create transparency and democratic legitimacy in the way police interact with our communities. Front-end accountability means rules are transparent before officials act, and that we all have a chance to weigh in as to how our communities are policed—including when diversion and community alternatives to law enforcement are appropriate. It also means examining the training and education police receive, and the militarization mindset that has perpetuated police brutality. Front-end reforms are needed to prevent bad outcomes in the first place.

There are thousands of encounters with police that never make the news, where traffic stops or so-called “consensual” encounters perpetuate the fear Black Americans live with every day when they interact with law enforcement. True reform, true justice, will only be achieved when we address the root causes of this fear, rather than ignore the reality of racism in the system.

Image credit: Ben Von Klemperer

Featured Publications