Accountability Does Not Equal Justice

Rodney Ellis | 4/30/2021, 9:19 a.m.
Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, has been declared guilty. The job of this jury ...
Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, has been declared guilty. The job of this jury is done. But, the job of those who seek justice is not.

While I hope that this verdict brings some peace to George Floyd’s family and loved ones, we must remember that this verdict does not bring George Floyd back. It does not bring back Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Daunte Wright, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, and countless others who have lost their lives to police violence. The verdict does not change the fact that innumerable Black and Brown lives are being systematically and needlessly destroyed on a daily basis by a broken, oppressive discriminatory criminal legal system.

On the same afternoon that this verdict was being read, 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio.

We still live in a country where Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people; in a country where the criinalization of Black and Brown communities is prioritized over community-based solutions; in a country where racial disparities are deeply rooted in every fiber of the criminal legal system.

Real justice is more than one verdict. Real justice means systemic transformation to create a criminal le- gal system truly rooted in community health and safety, and free of racial op- pression. Real justice means ending the racist and discriminatory system of mass criminalization and incarceration of communities of color. It means ceasing incarcerating people for poverty, mental health, and substance use; and making up for decades of intentional neglect by creating meaningful and effective investments in our communities’ health and safety.

This verdict is an opportuni- ty to rededicate ourselves to urgent and meaningful action. We can truly provide justice for George Floyd and honor his memory when we create a system that truly respects communities of color, makes our communities safer, and serves each individual fairly and equitably.

Here in Harris County, we are committed to ending white supremacy and reimagining our criminal legal sys- tem to create a world in which Black and Brown people are safe and free.

As part of these efforts, we are investing in the following programs:

*Holistic Alternative Responder Teams (HART) - Under this program, 911 call takers would send first respondrs trained to address situations involving mental and behavioral health issues, substance use, and people experiencing homelessness. This would enable law enforcement to prioritize other emergencies and ensure that people in distress get the support they need.

*Violence Interrupters -This program helps address gun violence in our communities with a public health approach. Violence interrupters will include hospital-based intervention programs to support survivors of violence and reduce the chance of retaliation. This way we stop the cycle of violence in communities most impacted without having to use the criminal legal system.

*Youth Justice Community Reinvestment Fund – This fund will invest in community programs that prevent youth involvement in crime and prevent youth incarcer- ation. The fund aims to address racial disparities in juvenile de- tention and is part of a bold new approach to justice that begins with investing in communities most impacted by incarceration.

*Quality legal representation for all people – We are expanding our Public Defender’s Office and investing in holistic services for people caught in the criminal legal system. Last week’s verdict came after weeks of testimony and months of preparation; many poor defendants never get that kind of due process. All people, rich or poor, deserve to have equal protection of their constitutional rights.

Safety in our communities means accessible healthcare, affordable hous- ing, quality schools, and walkable neighborhoods. It means ensuring that all parts of a community have an op- portunity to thrive, not concentrating resources in some neighborhoods while surveilling others. We will create that world together.