While watching the eight minute and 46 second video of George Floyd’s death it is hard to explain the conduct of the law enforcement officers as anything but abuse of force and criminal. It would be easy to presume the officers’ guilt and dispense with due process, the steps of justice. Even so, they are guilty of nothing because they are presumed innocent. They are not guilty until every step of due process is exhausted, until relevant and reliable evidence is presented against them, and until a jury determines that the evidence has proven each element of the crimes presented against them beyond a reasonable doubt. Justice requires valuing due process over power, over profit, over personal loyalty, and over self. We demonstrate justice for George Floyd by the justice we demand for the officers accused of his death.
My faith teaches that injustice has a voice that cries out and continues to cry out until justice is done. Justice is not done until each person receives their due. Under American jurisprudence, the work of justice is done through due process. The justice system can be reformed by ensuring that each step of due process for each case is accomplished zealously. The barometer for whether or not this is being accomplished is jury trials. Jury trials are a public forum for citizens to be heard. Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches that “riots are the language of the unheard.” It is not surprising that we live in a season of rioting. Look at what has happened to jury trials over the past three decades. Several legislative, judicial, and societal factors have made pleading guilty when innocent more profitable than the wrongfully accused voicing their story to a jury. Less than four percent of all criminal cases go to trial. Re-dedication to a zealous commitment to due process, resulting in more jury trials is a simple and attainable objective.
There is a financial cost for a zealous commitment to due process and its detractors argue that due process is too expensive. That point is easily refuted when societal costs are weighed against the cost of due process. Further, there are methods that accomplish due process at a lower cost than going to war in a courtroom. Restorative justice is an approach to justice in which one of the responses to a crime is to organize a meeting between all of the stakeholders – such as the victim and the offender. The victim has the opportunity to express what has been taken from them and the offender has the opportunity to restore the victim.
Pre-Arrest Diversion programs are a restorative practice as well. For people who intersect the criminal justice system because of underlying health or development challenges, pre-arrest diversion may change the life trajectory for those people, make them more employable because they need not disclose an arrest, and reduce the load on the criminal justice system.