At first blush, it is hard to imagine much positive coming out of last week’s tragic news from Ferguson, Mo., where an unarmed 18-year-old man was shot six times by a police officer. Fairfax County is no stranger to such events. Police killings of unarmed people also occur in Fairfax County.
Let’s hope there will be at least one major thing to differentiate Ferguson and Fairfax. Perhaps the shooting death of Michael Brown will be the subject of a transparent investigation with independent review, hopefully resulting in justice being done. Sad to say, we can be certain that would not be the case if it had happened in Fairfax County where for 72 years, police officers have been allowed to kill with impunity — and never face review of their use of lethal force by anyone but their comrades in arms. While the number of officers involved in suspicious shootings represents a small percentage of a generally well trained force of public safety professionals, the use of lethal force takes a terrible toll of lives lost, families devastated by officers not held accountable as any other citizen would be. In Ferguson, there is an outpouring of public outrage rarely seen in Fairfax except for some cases in time of racial tension. The outrage in Missouri has been sufficient to get the attention of public officials from the county, state and even the federal level. So much so that the FBI is now on the case. We even hear demands for thorough investigation from many dysfunctional ones on Capitol Hill. Let’s hope that the momentum caused by outrage expressed by the brave folks of Ferguson will not be lost if the investigation drags on, the November elections pass and the police and their apologists somehow weather the storm.
In our own area, it has been nearly a year since a Fairfax County SWAT officer shot and killed unarmed John Geer as he stood in his doorway talking with police. Other than a few stories in the Washington Post and the Connection Newspapers and the anguish of the Geer family, there was no public outcry and certainly no call for independent and transparent investigation, much less follow through, by the responsible government — Fairfax County. In fact, the Board of Supervisors has served as chief enabler of police impunity in using lethal force for 72 years — since the Fairfax County Police Department was established in 1942 by the board.
In 2007, following the execution-style killing of Randall Leroy Collins, shot 11 times and left lying in the street by Fairfax County officers, there were calls for creation of a civilian review board to provide independent review of police in-house investigations of the use of lethal force. See if you can find any report of the investigation of that killing, detailing what happened, who fired the shots and exactly why. The only piece of paper I’ve seen is the coroner’s report labeling Mr. Collins’ death a “homicide.” The ACLU and NAACP, among others called on the Board of Supervisors for action. I heard Board Chairman Sharon Bulova speak to a breakfast group in Herndon in favor of civilian review. Then, the police said no — and the matter was dropped.
People, including supervisors, fear the increasingly militarized police in this region and elsewhere in America. In the localities where there is no civilian review of killings by cops, police have become an autonomous force, accountable to no one. To learn more, contact the Virginia Citizens Coalition for Police Accountability or go to its website: www.virginiaccpa.com.