Several times I’ve been asked why we don’t see major outrage in Fairfax County over law enforcement excesses. The question has arisen more as we’ve heard recent stories of outbursts in communities around the country following police killings of civilians. Sometimes, those inquiring tell me of their personal experiences involving abusive behavior by our police. Since the creation of the Commission to Review Police Practices by Chairman Sharon Bulova, we have heard many citizens testify to the Commission about their troubling experiences.
On Sept. 14, the outrage exploded in Fairfax County at a Commission public input hearing in south Alexandria. The crowd of perhaps 200 (my estimate), many of them holding signs of the Black Lives Matter movement and chanting the name Natasha McKenna, was angry and demanded to be heard. Natasha McKenna was the black woman who died in February as the result of being manhandled and tased by six Sheriff’s deputies in what seemed like white space suits with helmets and gas masks while she was naked, handcuffed and manacled with a hood over her head. Commission Chairman Michael Hershman fought valiantly to be heard and to move through agenda items preceding the planned open forum. A long summation of the Use of Force Subcommittee’s final report was barely completed; then the crowd would wait no longer. Hershman began announcing the names of those signed up to speak, and assured all the opportunity to do so.
The torrent began. Citing the horror video of Ms. McKenna’s death and the report of Commonwealth Attorney Ray Morrogh (based on a Fairfax County Police investigation) concluding that Ms. McKenna’s death was an accident and even suggesting she was somehow to blame, speakers demanded justice for Ms. McKenna. Several said her death was not an accident as Morrogh portrayed it. Speakers said they were fed up with white people’s cover-ups of police killings of blacks. Some proposed Morrogh resign, be fired immediately, or be arrested for complicity in murder. Sheriff Kincaid should also be fired or worse. Even Chairman Bulova, seated next to Chairman Hershman, was cited for complicity in the killing—by doing nothing about it. Meanwhile, Police Chief Edwin Roessler was in uniform sitting in the angry crowd. The crowd was so focussed on Chairman Bulova and the Commission, and Morrogh and Kincaid who weren’t present, that they failed to notice the Chief whose officers did the investigation of McKenna’s death.
Maybe the ingredient we lacked for outrage was race? McKenna was black and died brutally at the hands of six white officers. Most killed by FCPD over the years were white. In any case, let’s hope the outrage following Ms. McKenna’s terrible death can be a catalyst for the reform of law enforcement desperately needed in Fairfax County. (See video of Commission hearing in its entirety at http://fairfaxcounty.gov/cable/channel16/asx/policeadhocpubhear_9_14_15.asx).
NOTE: As we go to press, another way to protest Ms. McKenna’s death came to my attention. The suggestion is to write in NATASHA MCKENNA for Commonwealth Attorney vs. Ray Morrogh, who is running for re-election unopposed in the Nov. 3 general election.
Clarification: In my last column, I mentioned names of civilians shot to death by FCPD officers under questionable circumstances and subsequently investigated by their fellow officers. In the case of Hailu Brooks, I erred. I should have noted that while he was shot to death by Fairfax County Officers, the subsequent investigation was carried out by the Arlington Police Department, not the FCPD, because the shooting occurred inside Arlington.