Reston, VA

Del. Ken Plum: Insurrection

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last Thursday’s one-word headline in the Richmond Times Dispatch was in such a large font that it extended across the entire width of the newspaper: INSURRECTION. The generally conservative newspaper that was in its history the mouthpiece of massive resistance against school desegregation could have termed the events at the United States Capitol the previous day a riot, a disturbance, or a protest. That they and many others chose insurrection as the best description of what happened is an indication of the seriousness of it.

No one expressed the situation better than Senator Mitt Romney in his prepared speech delivered at the Capitol as soon as the insurrectionists had been forced out: “We gather today due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of his supporters whom he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning. What happened here today was an insurrection, incited by the President of the United States.”

An insurrection is defined legally as the act or an instance of revolting especially violently against civil or political authority or against an established government. Under federal law, whoever incites, assists, or engages in any insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid or comfort thereto, shall be fined and/or imprisoned; and shall be incapable of holding any office in the future.

The rights to assemble and to petition the government are protected in the Constitution. America is known for its open protests to bring injustices to the attention of government officials and the public. Some would say that such actions are as American as apple pie. What happened last week is different. Incited and directed by the President of the United States, his lawyer and a retired general who was recently pardoned by the President, thousands of persons marched from near the White House to the United States Capitol where for the first time since the British occupied the Capitol in 1814 took over the building for a short time.

It is essential that the Congress and the justice system take appropriate action against those who incited, led and participated in the insurrection. Defense of our democracy demands it. Likewise, we need to understand why the Capitol was left so defenseless when it was well known that a major bullying of the Congress was going to take place that day as the President had been talking about for weeks.

The Guardian offered a perspective: “A group of white supremacists from throughout the country who had been radicalized by the rants and misinformation from the President occupied a space that has been the citadel of democracy.” About the ease with which the insurrectionists took over the Capitol it observed, “The contrast with the mass deployments of over 5,000 troops for the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer could not have been more glaring. Then, Washington resembled a city under occupation.”

Through what has been one of the most disturbing days of our history I remain hopeful that we will be able to undo the many wrongs of the last four years and the racism of hundreds of years. I pledge myself to working as hard as I can to make it happen!

Photo via Ken Plum

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With only a week left until President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Fairfax Connector announced that two bus routes will stop operating today (Wednesday) through Jan. 20 due to planned road closures in Washington, D.C.

Route 699, which normally travels between the Fairfax County Government Center and downtown D.C., will instead serve as a free shuttle to transport riders from the government center park and ride to the south entrance of the Vienna Metro station.

“The shuttles will leave the government center at the time on the schedule,” Fairfax Connector said in a tweet. “The shuttles will leave Vienna about 45 mins after their DC departure time with the goal of getting riders back to the P&R lot near their regularly scheduled arrival time.”

Fairfax Connector suggests Routes 631, 632, and 634 as travel alternatives for passengers on Route 697, which goes from the Stringfellow Road Park and Ride in Centreville to D Street SW in D.C. Routes 631, 632, and 634 all stop at the Stringfellow Park and Ride and the Vienna Metro station.

Fears that the violence that embroiled the U.S. Capitol last week could return during the lead-up to Inauguration Day have put the D.C. region on edge, prompting thousands of National Guard troops and federal, state, and local law enforcement officers to mobilize for the National Special Security Event.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay joined other local and state public officials in warning community members against traveling to downtown D.C. on the day of the inauguration and the days preceding it.

“Sadly, the terror that occurred at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was not a contained or isolated incident, and there is continued concern that similar violence is an ongoing threat to Americans and our democracy,” McKay said in a statement today.

The chairman says that the Fairfax County Police Department has been in contact with D.C. police about “the evolving situation” and has increased its presence in “key areas” of the county.

McKay advises residents to stay home if possible, avoid downtown D.C., and report any suspicious activity to police at 9-1-1 or the FCPD’s non-emergency line at 703-691-2131.

“Fairfax County will do all we can to help our partners in the region ensure a peaceful and safe transition of power on January 20, 2021 because that is the will of Fairfax County residents and the majority of Americans across the country,” McKay said.

Photo via Fairfax Connector/Facebook

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Thursday Morning Notes

COVID-19 Means Big Growth for Reston Company — “A virtual care startup working to help doctors manage telehealth is raising its first funding round to build up its team and expand its reach, after breaking out of stealth mode and into an explosive growth year fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.” [Washington Business Journal]

Northam: ‘Virginia Will Be There’ — In a recent press release, Northam says, “I continue to pray for the safety of every member of the House and Senate, all the staff, the journalists, everyone who works in the Capitol. And I commend the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police for quickly stepping up in this time of great need. Let me be clear: Virginia will be there for as long as it takes to protect our nation’s capital and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Reston Firm Sells Off Division — Reston-based civil engineering and surveying firm Wiles Mensch Corp. announced Tuesday that it has sold off its federal projects division, which now operates as an independent. [Virginia Business]

State Considers Speeding Up Vaccinations — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program and accelerate the pace of vaccinations across Virginia.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Photo by vantagehill/Flickr

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Officers with the Fairfax County Police Department have been deployed to Washington, D.C., as part of a region-wide emergency response to far-right extremists who have stormed the U.S. Capitol, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s office confirmed to Tysons Reporter.

Fairfax County has also opened its emergency operations center to Virginia State Police.

Earlier this week, McKay advised county residents to avoid visiting downtown D.C. as several right-wing groups planned to hold demonstrations to protest Congress’ scheduled certification of the November 2019 general election results.

Fairfax County police previously said they did not anticipate needing to assist D.C. authorities in managing the demonstrations. Like other law enforcement agencies in the D.C. region, the county has a mutual aid agreement in place for situations where additional help may be needed.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn also encouraged residents to stay home. His full statement is below.

Today has truly been one of the most remarkable days in our country’s history, and the sounds and images on our screens are frightening and saddening. Over the years we have seen many challenges to authority, to our system, and even to each other, but we have always emerged stronger and doubled down on our commitment to a more perfect union. Let’s not forget that our institutions are strong, our commitment to rule of law is unchanged, and that government by the people and for the people remains our foundational principle. We have the oldest democracy on earth and we will pull together so that does not change.

McKay’s full statement is below:

What is happening in Washington D.C. right now is nothing short of a coup. This is a dark day in American democracy and I am personally sad and angry. I’m hopeful residents of the county heeded our advice to stay home today.

We have deployed members of our police department and opened our emergency oerpations center ot Virginia State Police. Let us pray for their safety as well as the safety of the innocent people impacted. Our democracy will not be destroyed by violent, lawless mobs.

I’m in constant communication with County officials to ensure we provide as much help as possible and also protect our communities in Fairfax.

Photo via Sherry Xu on Unsplash

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Fairfax County police are not sending officers to D.C to assist with the first amendment demonstrations set to take place tomorrow, police spokesperson Sergeant Greg Bedor confirms to Reston Now.

The region is anticipating thousands of Trump supporters to descend on the region to protest Wednesday’s Congressional certification of the presidential election. Since November, the president has made numerous unproven claims that the election was stolen.

Over the last several weeks, he’s also repeatedly encouraged supporters via social media to protest on January 6. One such tweet in December said, “Be there, be wild.” He even said he would be there himself.

Previous rallies in November and December both ended in violence, particularly after the sunset. This has led to Arlington County to encourage their residents not to go to D.C. counter-protest.

Fairfax County police, along with a number of other local jurisdictions, have traditionally had mutual aid agreements in place with D.C. police, in case situations arise where help is needed.

However, Bedor says that he does not expect FCPD to be called into D.C. tomorrow. “The [D.C.] Mayor has arranged for other support, so our understanding that’s been covered,” he says.

That other support is a reference to the D.C. National Guard being activated to provide traffic control and crowd management.

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The Fairfax County Police Department is seeking a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice for additional non-ballistic riot helmets with riot face shields.

With the unanimous approval of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a Tuesday meeting, FCPD will apply for $114,017 in funding through the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) in order to purchase 370 helmets and face shields.

Currently, FCPD has 120 riot helmets which are primarily used by its Civil Disturbance Unit (CDU). JAG grants are used to provide states and units of local government to support law enforcement equipment, crime prevention programs, technological improvements, and other resources.

In a staff memo, Deputy County Executive David Rohrer and FCPD Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. noted that the purpose of the grant is to replace some aged equipment, boost office safety, and “increase the capability of the police department to respond to incidents of civil unrest within Fairfax County.”

“Protective equipment is not required for every situation CDU handles, but must be available when needed to protect officers,” they wrote.

Jeff McKay, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, clarified that the riot gear is not military-grade and no county dollars will be used for the effort.

“It is for the protection of those officers should something be needed but obviously these are personal protective devices, not military-grade equipment, that could be deployed in the event of civil unrest, which we’ve been blessed not to have here in Fairfax County,” McKay said at the Tuesday meeting.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who supported the grant application, also sought additional clarification on the purpose of more riot gear.

“We’re not exactly anticipating a dramatic upsurge in civil unrest are we? I wouldn’t think we are.”

He also clarified that the board “reinforces the right to peaceful protest.”

“We’re not going to down a different road with approval of this.”

Photo via FCPD

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Car Rally for Justice Takes Place in Reston — “With armed security guards patrolling the grounds, faith leaders of nine partnering churches in the Reston-Herndon area joined organizers from Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Church Reston for their Faith and Justice Car Rally.” [The Connection]

Brabrand to Host Town Hall on Return to School — Fairfax County Public Schools’ Superintendent Scott Brabrand will host a town hall today (Wednesday) from 6-7 p.m. to discuss questions about the return to school. [FCPS]

Box Activities for 55+ Now Available — Activities in a Box for 55+ is now available for purchase. Each box is different and includes a nature activity, craft and science experiment, as well as a link to connect virtually for coffee or happy hour. [Reston Association]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Several local faith-based groups are partnering to take part in a car rally for racial justice.

Congregants from area churches will gather on Wednesday, Aug. 26 for the rally, which is intended to raise awareness about “persistent and pervasive racial inequities that have led to violence and discrimination against people of color,” according to event organizers.

Amanda Andere, an event organizer, said all community members are invited to attend the event, which builds on the momentum of national, state and local protests following the death of George Floyd.

As a church we have been in reflection to our response to the continued racial justice awakening since May and have been asked by local faith leaders to do something as one of the original Black churches in Reston. We feel the call for racial justice needs continued attention,” Andere said.

So far, the following congregations are set to take part in the rally:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Christian Church
  • St. Thomas a’ Becket Catholic Church
  • Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation
  • Reston Unitarian Universalists Congregation
  • Washington Plaza Baptist Church 
  • Rev. Jerome 

The event takes place from 6-7 p.m. in the parking lot of the St. Thomas à Becket Church (1421 Wiehle Avenue).

As a church we have been in reflection to our response to the continued racial justice awakening since May and have been asked by local faith leaders to do something as one of the original Black churches in Reston. We feel the call for racial justice needs continued attention.”

Photo via of Herndon Car Rally via Deborah Smith Reilly/Facebook

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Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. defended his department’s longstanding use of force policies and commitment to the sanctity of human life as national protests call for dramatic police reforms.

At a meeting with county officials today (Tuesday), Roessler Jr. stated that FCPD’s policies surrounding use of force, the use of chokeholds, and de-escalation are well ahead of many reforms requested by protestors across the country.

Currently, chokeholds are not allowed as a use of force options. De-escalation is required when possible and officers are trained two times per year in order to reinforce the use of force continuum and training. Shooting at moving vehicles is prohibited unless there is a “threat of death or serious injury” to the officer or another person, according to police documents.

“These reform endeavors have not ended as we continue told ourselves accountable,” he said.

FCPD’s use of force policy aims to gain voluntary compliance from the other person using seven core pillars, which include principles like self-control, empathy, balance, realism, and a commitment to lack of humiliation.

A study on FCPD’s use of force culture is underway. The report, which is conducted by University of Texas at San Antonio researchers, was prompted by another study that found roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involved Black individuals.

Earlier the month, FCPD officer Tyler Timberlake was charged on three counts of assault and battery in what FCPD said was an “unacceptable” use of force.

When prompted by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Roessler Jr. noted that FCPD’s training requirements “typically exceed state mandates.”

The county is currently working on implementing a countywide body-worn camera program. Although the Reston District Station and three other stations have body-worn cameras, the full implementation of the program was delayed due to budgetary concerns.

Recent events, including the killing of George Floyd, have prompted the board to expedite funding for the program. An updated plan will be developed by the end of the month, according to FCPD.

FCPD is also testing a new technology that would automatically turn on the body-worn camera when an officer takes a gun out of the holster.

Major Paul Cleveland noted that the department follows a co-produced policing model, which relies on community support and input to develop policing practices in line with community expectations.

Currently, the police department is taking a look at ensuring its internal culture emphasizes the well-being of officers and de-escalatory practices.

He says FCPD will continue to monitor ways to improve its practices.

“Reform is the right way to go,” he said.

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The organizers of a Black Lives Matter protest over the weekend are turning to virtual platforms for an online protest this weekend.

Between 9 a.m. tomorrow (Friday) and through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Herndon residents are encouraged to post photos on Facebook in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, with a specific focus on Herndon-related issues.

The online protest is organized by the leaders of last Saturday’sone-mile march through Downtown Herndon that culminated in the town’s green. Protestors took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed down with his knee onto George Floyd’s neck, resulting in his killing.

A car rally also took place one week ago in order to protest police brutality and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Participants can share photos, artwork, videos and other visual work. The goal of the project is to create an online slideshow that encapsulates local voices surrounding “social and systemic racial injustice in this country,” according to the organizers.

https://twitter.com/TornadoLizard/status/1269341542403235840

Photo by Logan Weaver/Unsplash

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More than 1,000 names of black people shot and killed by police in the last five years now don the sidewalks of Lake Anne Plaza.

Local residents spent much of Saturday morning chalking the names of 1,265 people with sidewalk chalk. Organizer Kaila Drayton, a said she wanted to take the time to honor individuals who lost their lives due to police brutality.

“I wanted to create a space where people from the local community could join in, help write names and have a conversation,” Drayton said. “The recent news of George Floyd’s death is both devastating and familiar to those of us in the black community.”

Drayton and two friends began around 8 a.m. on Sunday. The project took about four hours. A little over two dozen people gathered to help write the names and fill in some letters, including Black Lives Matter.

They also included a note about the project and a large message: “Reston, say their names.”

Lake Anne Village Center was the first village of Reston, a planned community. Founder Bob Simon sought to create an integrated community in the state before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2004, a bronze statue of Simon — dubbed “bronze bob” — was installed on a bench in Lake Anne Plaza.

It now includes a cardboard sign that reads “Black Lives Matter” around his neck. 

Photos via Kaila Drayton

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Hundreds of protestors lined Reston Parkway on Sunday evening to take a stand for George Floyd and racial justice.

Cars honked as protestors of all ages stood with signs in the peaceful demonstration, which was organized by a local community group, Reston Strong. Some chanted while others stood with masks. Groups gathered in Reston’s heart — Reston Town Center — in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Organizer Sarah Selvaraj-Dsouza, who started Reston Strong, said the number of Reston neighbors who joined the effort gives her hope in the “transformative” nature of the movement. She estimates more than 5,000 people took part.

We must continue the drumbeat for justice and loudly demand meaningful change. Tonight we came together to say our community believes Black Lives Matter. We have put out specific demands tonight and we will not stop till these are achieved,” she said.

Participants signed a #signthesign petition, which will be delivered to the Fairfax County Police Department and Commonwealth’s Attorney  Steve Descano.

The petition calls on FCPD to create a public, official database on use of force incidents among police officers. They are also demanding justice for Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old resident of Fairfax, who was killed by U.S. Park Police after a stop-and-go chase in 2017.

The Dulles Toll Road was closed between Wiehle Avenue and the Herndon-Monroe Park & Ride to accommodate the protest.

Photos by Nick Papetti

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Portions of Elden Street will be closed today (Thursday) around 5:30 p.m. due to a planned demonstration in Herndon.

According to the Herndon Police Department, access to Elden Street from side streets between Sterling and Monroe Drive will be blocked.

HPD is providing security and traffic control in order to “ensure a safe environment for lawful demonstrators.”

Herndon residents are expected to take part in a car rally that begins at Herndon Middle Middle School.

The event is intended to show solidarity with the black community following the killing of George Floyd, according to the event page.

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

For the second week in a row my column opens with a reference to sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who spoke to the United Nations Climate Action Summit last week after having sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat. Her message was hard hitting. As she had said to a Congressional committee, it was not necessary that she speak for a long period of time for the scientists had already spoken in the numerous reports on climate change that had been written. As a leader who had inspired weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament resulting in a growing movement of youth climate activists holding their own protests in more than 100 cities worldwide her message was clear to the world leaders: “We will be watching you…How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight!”

Gun violence is an issue about which young people have become increasingly concerned as well. A student who was at the high school in Parkland, Florida, when there was the mass shooting there has been quoted in the Washington Post as saying that “You see these shootings on TV every day and very little happening around it. It’s painful to watch. And I think it’s been really hard for me and many other students and people that we work with to find hope in this time.” Once again, the young people are watching.

Students from the high school in Parkland have formed an organization called March for Our Lives whose very name indicates the seriousness with which they are approaching the issue of gun violence. They have more than 100 chapters nationwide. Their proposed plan to combat gun violence, “A Peace Plan for a Safer America,” goes well beyond the limited measures being debated in the adult world. Their plan creates a national licensing program with a gun registry, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a waiting period for gun purchases, and a mandatory buy-back of assault weapons. Their program may seem extreme to many, but it deserves careful attention for it is written by young people who have the experience of having survived a mass shooting where their friends around them did not survive. Once again, we can expect that these young people and others will be watching what we adults do about this issue if indeed anything is done.

Many years ago I worked in a manufacturing plant in the Shenandoah Valley with a man who as a devout member of the Brethren Church. He would regularly remind me that we should live our lives as though someone is watching us for we could be sure that someone is watching us and observing our ethics, honesty and sincerity. We may be able to talk a good game, but those observing our behavior can learn more about us than we may care for them to know. In the political world these days there is way too much talk and too little action on critical life and death issues. Young people are watching and are calling us out!

File photo

 

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The Fairfax County School Board is considering a plan to grant middle and high school students an excused absence for taking part in protests, rallies and walkouts.

The board’s governance committee discussed the proposal earlier this week. If approved, students would be given one excused absence from school per year to take part in “civic engagement activities by providing prior notification to the school with evidence of a sponsored/organized event or activity,” according to the draft proposal.

In a letter submitted to the board in February, board member Ryan McElveen said county schools enforced inconsistent policies when students organized walkouts in response to recent school shootings. He wrote the following in his proposal to the board:

A year ago, the devastating tragedy in Parkland galvanized students, parents, and citizens around the country to call for an end to gun violence, a powerful movement demanding action by our elected representatives that continues to this day. The Fairfax County School Board amplified this advocacy through our Resolution on Gun Violence Prevention, which became a national model for School Board resolutions around the country. School systems cannot oppose nor endorse any specific calls to action, but they are constitutionally obligated to recognize and uphold the first amendment rights of students choosing to engage in political activities that do not infringe on the rights of others or disrupt the instructional day. While FCPS provided guidance to schools about how to respond to students who wanted to walkout in support of gun violence prevention in 2018, there was inconsistent enforcement of those procedures in schools, including how schools designated excused student absences. I have spoken with many community members who would like clearer policy guidance in the event of future civic engagement activities.

The discussion is expected to continue on October 2.

At a September 4 meeting, board members sought to ensure that the proposal would not interfere with the school system’s efforts to curb chronic absenteeism. The school board is still seeking information on the absenteeism status of the county’s schools, whether or not other school districts have adopted similar proposals and the projected impact of the proposal on absenteeism.

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