Darrell Cannon, Rip Van Winkle and Questions of Accountability

After spending 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Darrell Cannon became a free man, only to find his world completely changed. Despite being tortured and wrongfully imprisoned, Cannon was most upset about having lost many of his loved ones. “I lost everything,” he said, choking back on his tears. He had just recently put his sister to rest. It was as if Darrell Cannon had slept through a nightmare and woke up to find himself living through an actual nightmare. How would one react in this situation? With sadness? With anger? Cannon expressed both. And I would be lying if I didn’t say I expected him to forgive his torturers. But thinking back on his experiences now, I realize I was in the wrong in expecting him to be forgiving. He wasn’t in a deep slumber. He was beaten; severely enough to confess to something he did not do. And for taking the fall for someone else, he was imprisoned for 24 years, 9 of them served in a place where he felt insanity was imminent. Cannon lost everything; the people he loved are gone, and he can’t ever get them back.

What really struck me during Darrell’s lecture was the issue of accountability. Here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster:

the quality or state of being accountable ; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions <public officials lacking accountability>

We talked about accountability when we discussed the death of Timothy Souders in a Michigan correctional facility. Who was accountable for his death? Nobody was held accountable, and nobody took the responsibility for his death.

It’s pretty clear who was mostly accountable for the torture Darrell and others like him experienced. Or is it? By now everybody knows the name of Jon Burge. But what about the policemen who acted as his henchmen in executing his orders? What about the prosecutors, public defenders, judges, and officials who looked the other way and ignored these claims? Darrell made it pretty apparent that it wasn’t just one man who is accountable for the torture.

Darrell’s case of police brutality brings to mind the police beatings that happened about two years or so ago. The public was outraged. Not too long after, superintendent Phil Cline resigned.

I attended a lecture the following year hosted by a Criminology organization in Illinois. They described the current phase in policing as the era of accountability. As guest speaker Tim McLean of the IDOC stated, the Department of Corrections has its own internal investigative body. The same goes for the Chicago Police department; it’s called the Internal Affairs Division. The IAD is supposed to investigate any allegations of corruption and misconduct. Following the police beatings of 2007, the public called for an outside investigative body made up of civilians to oversee the police. I haven’t followed up on if those plans ever materialized, but it seems like a potential solution to prevent future cases of police violence, or even corruption, as many citizens are dissatisfied with the IAD.

In the end, there are always lawsuits, monetary compensation or reparations for incidents like these, but is that what justice is all about? Victims are sure to win a hefty sum for their suffering, but I don’t think money can really ever repair what’s been done. It’s kind of like trying to use a band-aid to reattach a severed limb. What matters more is that someone is held accountable.

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