As it sits, there is a constant and rising tension between traditional law and order interests (e.g. crime reduction, public safety, law enforcement) and the government’s broader efforts to achieve “social justice” (the reduction of disparities and disadvantages attributed to systemic inequality). The result is that officers are no longer judged solely on the lawfulness of their conduct, but instead on whether their actions support the larger social justice efforts, including renewed efforts to dismantle “systemic racism.”
Agency leaders who confidently defend an officer’s use of force by pointing to “officer safety,” may be winning a game that the other side isn’t playing. Simply put: When a community’s goals are for the police to stop shooting their sons and stop filling jails with their fathers, it is little comfort that the arrest or shooting was legally justified—and highly unlikely they will concede that point.
Among those willing to concede the lawfulness of an officer’s conduct, there may still be demands for “accountability.” Sometimes these demands reflect the belief that the officer is supporting a “system of oppression,” while others simply believe the officer didn’t do enough ethically to avoid the violence. In either case, even when an officer’s conduct is lawful, reasonable, or even heroic--there will still be those aggressively calling for “accountability.”