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Accountability: An Abandoned American Value

If our cars fatally malfunctioned as often as police officers shoot citizens, there would be a massive recall, pulling vehicles off the road, overhauling the engineering design, firing culpable employees, and paying out settlements to consumers for injuries and deaths of family members.

The problem of a complete lack of accountability within the police system parallels the demise of accountability throughout our nation. Once upon a time, we believed in accountability. But times have changed, and wanton, reckless irresponsibility has become permissible for police officers, corporations, politicians, and the wealthy. If you are a wealthy politician or businessman, the law rarely applies to you. If you are a Wall Street banker, you receive bailouts instead of criminal charges. If you own an oil company, you receive mild wrist slaps for causing catastrophic environmental disasters. If you’re in the military, you operate with unscrutinized impunity and negotiated immunity. If you’re a white rapist, you cool your heels for a while before diving back into the pool. If you’re a white killer who opens fire on African Americans in a House of God, you get a hamburger on the way to jail.

If you are poor or non-white, you are slapped with life sentences, death sentences, extrajudicial murders, public lynching, debt peonage, debilitating poverty, foreclosures, homelessness, poisoned water, strangulations, forced sterilization, home raids by SWAT teams . . . and the list goes on.

In this upside-down world, the poor, the young, the homeless, the old, and minority groups bear the deadly cross of accountability for the wanton irresponsibility of the U.S. corporations, politicians, wealthy, and privileged. It is they who are incarcerated, poisoned, executed, and chained to debt. It is they who lose their homes, jobs, bank accounts, safety, health, social networks, societal respect, and are stripped of titles, positions, dignity, rights, and awards. The poor and downtrodden are held accountable for the wrongs of the society – they pay the price for U.S. violence, greed, corruption, pollution, destruction, hate, discrimination, and arrogance. Whistleblowers who demand accountability for atrocities and the egregious violations of our rights are imprisoned and exiled while those that perpetrated the crimes remain in power.

This election season, we are chided to vote and “hold our policy makers” accountable – as if this were the only means of doing so. Where is our judicial system, our oversight committees, or the straightforward enforcement of existing laws? In 240 years, the United States has failed to generate and enforce a practical and effective system of political and corporate accountability. Where are our citizen oversight committees with the power to subpoena and charge police departments? Where is our version of Spain’s Partido X and its accompanying standards of political accountability? Where are our lawyers and judges will to prosecute and sentence reckless bankers as was done in Iceland after the financial crash?

Accountability for one’s actions is a value that functional societies require at every level from our children to our corporations to our Commanders-in-Chief. Without such a standard, the moral compass of our nation spins out of control, wildly sending us into dangerous and uncharted waters of increasingly rogue and criminal behaviors. When will the American public finally see accountability from all its power holders? The answer is: only when we demand it.

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Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

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