Within hours of the video of the shooting hitting the Internet, the city of Kenosha was on fire. Cars were torched. Businesses were destroyed. A 71-year-old man was hit in the head with a concrete-filled plastic bottle, which fractured his jaw in two places. On Tuesday, a 17-year-old boy brought a rifle to the city, ostensibly to defend property, and ended up shooting two people dead — possibly in self-defense, possibly not. On Wednesday, the celebrities got involved. The NBA postponed all of its games, after a critical mass of players announced that they would not play. In baseball, games between the Brewers and Reds, Mariners and Padres, and Dodgers and Giants were postponed for the same reason. These adjournments drew praise from President Barack Obama, who explained that “it’s going to take all our institutions to stand up for our values.”
We might ask what that means. The move that inspired Obama was spearheaded by the Milwaukee Bucks, which put out a collective statement explaining their decision not to play. “We are calling for justice for Jacob Blake,” the team insisted, “and demand the officers be held accountable.” But therein lies the problem. Properly understood, “justice” is not an outcome but a process, and its achievement is wholly contingent upon the details of each case. We secure “justice” both when an innocent man walks free and when a guilty man is convicted. Determining which is which is the whole ball of wax. “Accountability” works much the same way. One can hold a person accountable only for wrongful actions they have actually taken.