It is an almost obligatory trope of journalism that publications such this one do a "year end roundup" or "projections for the coming year." This kind of thing is fitting. Tearing yet another page off the civic calendar begs for reflection. Like it or not, we are a people of measures. We want to know "where we stand" or "give our two cents worth." Likewise, we often speak of being held "accountable." The origins of the word, 'accountable,' itself suggests something about the way we conceive of obligation, reciprocity and rectitude. The term "accountability" comes from the late Latin verb, accomptare (to account), which is a prefixed form of computare (to calculate)... which in turn derived from putare (to reckon). The English didn't adopt the word until the 13th century, but the early Protestants only a couple centuries later gave it the meaning we attach today.

It is an almost obligatory trope of journalism that publications such this one do a “year end roundup” or “projections for the coming year.” This kind of thing is fitting. Tearing yet another page off the civic calendar begs for reflection. Like it or not, we are a people of measures. We want to know “where we stand” or “give our two cents worth.” Likewise, we often speak of being held “accountable.” The origins of the word, ‘accountable,’ itself suggests something about the way we conceive of obligation, reciprocity and rectitude. The term “accountability” comes from the late Latin verb, accomptare (to account), which is a prefixed form of computare (to calculate)… which in turn derived from putare (to reckon). The English didn’t adopt the word until the 13th century, but the early Protestants only a couple centuries later gave it the meaning we attach today.

In this vein of counting our place in the Universe, 2011 should hold special significance for many people in Pine Bluff. Seventeen individuals in particular took their last mortal breath somewhere in the city, each concluding a life more suddenly and violently than they had likely hoped.

By that same token, over two thousand of us were victims of a violent crime. Many more than that suffered the loss or destruction of property due to criminal activity. In short, it was a banner year to be a villain in the City of Progress.

While the gory count tells a story of its own, there is another side to this accounting of 2011. Those acts listed above were the gateway to ruined lives, not only for victims, but for the offenders themselves. Instead of staying in school, being employed, mowing their yard, taking out the trash and raising their children, many of them took drugs, abused alcohol, and disassociated with all things and people that represent stability and growth.

For the rest of us, we paid for their dastardly acts both as victims — and as benefactors for the criminal justice system that will now warehouse many of them until they are deemed necessary to release. In this, we are doubly penalized. In our ledger of society, this is a number writ boldly red and underlined.

Following the metaphor, there is another aspect to the civic accountability for 2011: our local government. Did the current administration bring us to this lowly place alone? No, hardly. They are simply the latest in a long line of politicians who stood by as things got worse. It doesn’t matter if they intended to do better, but failed. The fact is, they failed.

They failed to interrupt a cycle of violence, poverty and population decline unlike that of almost any other city in the nation. Maybe they just didn’t know what to do. Maybe they knew, but lacked the courage because the price would have been too high.

Whatever the reason, we all know the results. Fortunately, the metaphor of accounting holds one more lesson. That lesson is the promise of the next year, the next cycle in our communal budget.

We are eleven months from that auspicious day when many of our local officials will get the check for their long dinner at the pubic table. When it is delivered, we have an opportunity to elect people of greater skill and wisdom. We have an opportunity to find people who will look at the heavy violent toll and proclaim, “no more.”

Of course those still seated at our table have an opportunity of their own. The new year gives them a special charge: They have exactly eleven months to distinguish themselves from the specter of 2011. The year, 2012, is a clean slate. It has no body count. It has no police incident reports. It is virginal, unspoiled and ripe with potential. Let us hope it is not potential wasted.