Reston, VA

This 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.

Virginia made history last week: The Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam signed the bill that made Virginia the first state in the south and the 23rd state in the nation to end the death penalty! I made the nearly four-hour trip to the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarrett where the “death chamber” is located to be at this momentous occasion when another of my legislative goals was realized.

While some have justified the death penalty as an appropriate “eye for an eye” punishment and a deterrent for other crimes, the history of the death penalty is much more complex. Virginia executed more people than any other state having executed 1,390 people over its 413 years. Its uneven application among the states and within the state itself is astounding. Virginia executed 94 women over its history, twice as many as the state with the next most executions of women. Of those, 78 were Black, 11 were White and five were of unknown race. Sixteen children below the age of 18 were executed including a slave girl about 12 years old who was hung in 1825. In 2005 the United States Supreme Court declared that the execution of those under the age of 18 at the time of their crime was cruel and unusual punishment and hence unconstitutional. It followed an earlier decision in a Virginia case that found that executing an intellectually disabled person as the state was poised to do was unconstitutional.

Until the first electrocution in 1908, executions in Virginia were carried out by hanging making them not unlike the lynchings of Blacks that had occurred throughout the South. From 1900 until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1977 for crimes in which no one was killed, Virginia executed 73 Black defendants for rape, or attempted or armed robbery that did not result in death, while no White defendants were executed for those crimes.

Other numbers show how the death penalty was more an act of White supremacy than for public safety. Between 1900 and 1999, there were 377 executions and of those 296 were Black persons and 79 White persons. For murder there were 304 executions, 223 Black and 79 White persons. For rape 48 Black persons and for attempted rape 20 Black persons executed, and in both instances no White persons were executed.

One of the most unbelievable stories in the history of the death penalty in Virginia was the execution of five Black defendants on February 2, 1951, and the execution of two more Black men on February 5, 1951, accused of raping a White woman. An all-White jury meted out the punishment after trials that lasted one day per defendant.

We cannot rewrite this dark chapter of Virginia’s history, but we must learn from it. Too many laws in the past were written to maintain White supremacy rather than protect the public equally. The General Assembly has made major strides at ridding the Code of Jim Crow laws. We can see the repeal of the death penalty as a major step in moving Virginia forward as a more just state.

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Morning Notes

County Issues Statement on Georgia Shootings — Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says his thoughts are with the families and friends who lost loved ones in Tuesday’s shootings in George. He called the attack and the rise in violence against Asian Americans “horrifying, deeply disturbing, and unacceptable.” [FCPD]

Steward of Reston-based Engineering Firm Dies — “Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., who led his family’s engineering and construction firm for three decades, expanding an already sprawling operation into an international behemoth with projects including the Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France and Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia, died March 15 at his home in San Francisco. He was 95. Bechtel announced his death but did not cite a cause.” [The Washington Post]

Northam Restores Voting Rights for Ex-Convicts — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has cleared the path to the ballot for tens of thousands of ex-felons by officially reinstating their civil rights.” [WTOP]

Registration for Reston Association Tennis Resumes — RA has officially opened up registration for tennis lessons for kids, teens and adults. New sessions will start soon. [RA]

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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.

One of the meaningful traditions that has evolved in the Virginia House of Delegates over the last couple of decades has been the celebration of Black History Month by having a speech each day on the House floor about famous Black persons and their struggles and accomplishments in the Commonwealth. According to History magazine, Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Month, the event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976 the month of February has been designated as Black History Month and is celebrated around the world, including in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Virginia has a unique role in Black history. The first enslaved Blacks arrived in Virginia in 1619, and the labors of these persons were central to the growth of the Virginia colony and then state. It was Black laborers who built the grand plantations’ homes and the institutions of higher education while themselves living in meager housing and refused entrance into public schools and colleges. It was Black slave labor that built the early Virginia tobacco economy while being denied all but the most limited income. Black persons supported the lifestyle of the most prominent Virginia families with no public recognition of their accomplishments. As significant as were Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, they did not apply to the slaves in his household nor to the Constitution that counted them as 3/5ths of a person.

The Emancipation Proclamation, the outcome of the Civil War and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment did not result in equality under the law for Black citizens. Under federal Reconstruction government about one hundred Black citizens were elected to public office between 1869 and 1890 including a Black congressman, but a swift reaction by conservative whites led to Jim Crow laws and voting laws that quickly curtailed the power of Black voters. The 1902 Virginia Constitution that included a literacy test and poll tax for voting limited the number of Black voters to such a degree that they did not regain their numbers at the turn of the century until the 1990s.

The recent history of voting in Virginia offers reasons to celebrate. There are more Black members of the Virginia General Assembly today than at any time since Reconstruction. There are two Black congressmen from Virginia. The Lieutenant Governor, the President of the Virginia Senate, and the majority leader of the House of Delegates are Black. The General Assembly has made historic strides in repealing Jim Crow laws, expanding voter participation and reforming criminal justice laws and practices that discriminated against persons of color. Virginia was the first state to have a Black governor, and for the nominations to run this fall there are at least two Black women and one Black man running for governor, two or more Black men running for lieutenant governor and at least one Black man running for the attorney general nomination. There are ample reasons to be celebrating Black history in Virginia this month and throughout the year.

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For the first time since it formed in 2016, the county’s Civilian Review Panel has cited its disagreement with the Fairfax County Police Department’s investigation of racial bias allegations that happened in Herndon in 2019.

Because six of the nine-member panel disagree with the findings of FCPD’s investigation, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed the police department to address the panel’s requests for the next steps. The matter was discussed at a board meeting on Tuesday.

The panel disputed FCPD’s findings that an interaction in 2019 between a police officer from the Reston District Station and an African American man in Herndon was motivated by racial bias.

The man said he felt that he had been targeted and suspected of trespassing “for no reason at all.”

According to the investigation file, the officer began following the man’s car when he turned at a red light in Herndon and stared at the officer. When he ran the car’s license plate and it matched with a woman in Virginia Beach — what he knew to be “a source city for illegal substances” in Fairfax County — his suspicions grew and he followed the man into his apartment complex in Herndon.

The officer approached the man and asked him for his identification, where he lived, and other identifying information. In a complaint submitted to the county, the man said he was shaken by the encounter and was “extremely frightened and nervous.” He recorded the encounter on his cell phone.

According to the report, the officer stayed in the parking lot for a few more minutes after he verified the man’s identity and ran the license plate again.

The man, whose name was not released, said he felt the incident was racially motivated because the officer believed he did not live in the apartment complex and stood in a manner that hindered his ability to get out of his car. No use of force was exercised in the incident.

In official comments to the panel, FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler said that while the office had a series of “poor, cascading assumptions and judgments that were wrongly based on his training,” there is no evidence that race was a factor in the incident.

He acknowledged that FCPD said the encounter indicates that there are some elements that need to be “train[ed]-away.”

“We can’t just keep going to proactive patrol training,’ Roessler told the civilian panel during the course of its investigation. “I pray that you are understanding that as your Chief I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

However, the panel determined that FCPD’s internal review did not thoroughly investigate allegations of racial bias and racial profiling. The panel also concurred with the chief that the officer was not professional.

“The investigative record was virtually silent as to why the officer decided to follow the complainant in the first place and panel members questioned whether a similarly situated white driver would ever have been followed in such a manner,” according to the panel report.

But when the panel did not receive additional information about the investigation last year, the panel voted to advise the board that the investigation was incomplete and needed follow-up interviews with the officer’s coworkers and deeper data analysis.

The panel also found that FCPD lacks objective criteria to evaluate racial bias or profiling incidents. It encouraged the police department to include all community contacts, stops searches and arrests into a data management system. Other recommendations are listed below.

Data analysis of an officer’s community contacts, stops, searches and arrests should  be compared and contrasted with comparable data from the district station where the incident occurred and the county as a whole. The data analysis should also take  into account the racial and ethnic composition of each district as compared to the county overall. 

For the purposes of investigations into allegations of bias or profiling, data analysis  of the officer’s community contacts, stops, searches and arrests should cover a  period of 3-5 years, or if the officer has less tenure, for the duration of his service in  the FCPD. If during the prescribed time period the officer has worked in different  districts within the county, the review and analysis of the officer’s community  contacts, stops, searches and arrests should not be limited to the district where the  officer is assigned at the moment, but rather should include all such encounters in  every county district where the officer served during the time period. 

Like the efforts the FCPD has undertaken to analyze and identify use of force  incidents, the FCPD should consider creating an early warning system to alert  commanders as to whether an officer’s community contacts, stops, searches or  arrests are excessive and disproportionate for a particular race or ethnic group. 

The FCPD should retain an independent expert on implicit bias to examine all law  enforcement policies, practices and training for the purpose of recommending  evidence-based strategies to mitigate the impact of implicit bias on policing.  

Officers should receive implicit bias training on an annual basis. 

The county’s board voted to direct Roessler to take further action on the panel’s requests.

The Civilian Review Panel reviews FCPD investigations containing allegations of abuse of authority or serious misconduct to ensure accuracy, completeness, thoroughness, objectivity, and impartiality, according to the county’s website.

Photo via FCPD 

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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.

Last Sunday evening Confederate General Robert E. Lee lost his position of representing the Commonwealth as part of the Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol. A copy of a statue of General Lee by sculptor Edward Valentine had been standing in the Capitol since 1909 most recently in the Crypt where a statue representing each of the thirteen original states stood. General Lee’s statue was carted off just as statues of him have been taken down across the state including the huge equestrian statue of him that will be taken down from Monument Avenue in Richmond as soon as lawsuits about it are resolved.

The other statue representing Virginia in the Capitol Statuary Collection is a copy of Houdon’s statue that stands in the Rotunda of the State Capitol in Richmond of the Father of Our Country George Washington. It was Washington’s strong leadership and the time-honored precedents he set that helped the new nation to get started. Lee on the other hand had led an insurrection that attempted to break away from the nation and establish the Confederate States as a separate country that allowed slavery of human beings!

Who else could represent Virginia as the second statue allowed by each state in the Statuary Collection? The Governor appointed a commission to answer that question. After their public hearings and deliberations, the commission concluded that the appropriate person should be Barbara Johns. For too long a time many Virginians have not known of the heroic acts that Barbara Johns did to help set the course for recent history in Virginia. Her statue is already on the Virginia Capital grounds in the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial recognizing her leadership in bringing about changes in the unequal ways that white and black schools were funded in Virginia.

The Supreme Court case Brown v Board of Education in 1954 that desegregated public schools included a Virginia case that came about as a result of a boycott of Prince Edward County Schools led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns. White children in Prince Edward County went to school in a new brick building while Black children went to school in a tar paper shanty with limited heating. NAACP lawyers Oliver Hill and Spotswood Robinson took her grievance all the way to the Supreme Court and won!

Barbara Johns will join Rosa Parks who was the first Black woman to have a full-size statue in the U.S. Capitol. As Virginians we can be proud to show our children and grandchildren the statue of Barbara Johns representing us and explain to them the important role she played in standing up to injustices and bringing about significant civil rights changes in our state.

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors met with the Fairfax County History Commission on Tuesday to discuss Confederate associated street and place names across the county. 

This project began after the June 23 and July 7 board meetings, where the commission set out to create an inventory of Confederate places and structures within the county following the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd. 

After identifying more than 26,000 streets and places in a report, the board narrowed the focus list to 650 well-known Confederate Officers and locally-known Confederates. After researching those names, the Commission found 150 assets to have confirmed Confederate associated names, according to the presentation by Anne Stuntz, the chairwoman of the History Commission. 

Names identified in the Hunter Mill District include the Lee Manor Subdivision, Fort Lee Street, Mosby’s Landing Condominium Complex, and Wade Hampton Drive. 

The commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors create a public dialogue regarding the issue through public meetings and community gatherings, and follow those discussions with deliberation and definitive action on the Confederate names. The Commission also recommended that all project research is archived in the Virginia Room in the City of Fairfax Regional Library because of the extensive project research. 

Tom Biesiadney, director of Fairfax County’s Department of Transportation, discussed the process of petitioning the Commonwealth Transportation Board to change the name of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway. The commonwealth says there needs to be public input, as well as a request from the Board of Supervisors to change the name.

The Commission created a 2021 initiative in response to the Confederate listing, aiming to develop an inventory of research materials on African American communities in Fairfax County in collaboration with African American organizations including churches, social and community groups. 

The Commission is using a model identified by the city of Alexandria. Additionally, this summer, the City of Fairfax developed a framework process for identifying Confederate-associated names throughout this city and is partnering with George Mason University to provide community learning sessions on the issue, according to the presentation.

The board shared their appreciation for the extensive and intricate research by the History Commission. Additionally, Board members mostly agreed that the first priority should be the renaming of the highways, and from there, move forward with a community. process for renaming the secondary and neighborhood streets.

One concern came from Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk regarding the history of the district’s name. 

“I was hoping that there’d be something more definitive about Lee District, in terms of where its name originated, but it appears that we still have the same set of ambiguity,” said Lusk.   “We will have to have a community conversation about this name of this district.”

Additionally, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity expressed concern in rushing into the name change process in the midst of the pandemic and emphasized the need for “robust community participation” before moving forward. 

Image via the Fairfax County History Commission

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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.

Communications experts advise that a message needs to short and punchy to convey its intended meaning in a short period of time. Short and sweet can lead however to confusion, mixed meaning and unintended consequences.

Virginians have realized the fallout from simple, bumper-strip-sized messages in the past. “End parole” as a campaign slogan helped former Governor George Allen overcome a 20-point polling difference to be elected governor. For some people the slogan meant less crime and safer streets, but it also filled Virginia’s prisons to over-flowing shifting huge sums of money from other programs to the Department of Corrections. More people were incarcerated and for longer lengths of time, but the crime rate stayed essentially the same. The campaign slogan “End the Car Tax” got Jim Gilmore elected governor, but the resulting policy costs Virginia schools nearly a billion dollars every year even until today.

I am not particularly good at campaign slogans, but I am fearful that the current “Defund the Police” slogan in response to the real problems in policing throughout the country may inhibit progress towards reform. The number of people who want to literally take all funding from the police is small, but the use of a simplistic phrase to describe the reform movement may turn off many moderates and completely scare away conservatives. There has to be a better way to describe the desired outcomes that reflects the complexities of the problem.

Policing desperately needs reform at all levels of government. The misuse of police power and tactics by the federal government in Portland is frightening, and the Congress must take steps to reign in the administration politicizing the use of police powers. At the state level Virginia needs to increase–not defund–its funding of state police to ensure that its pay structure will attract the best trained and most professional persons to its ranks. It needs to be able to fill its open slots to reduce overtime and stress on its current force.

At the same time the Virginia General Assembly needs in its special session this month to enact the reforms proposed by the Legislative Black Caucus including eliminating the use of choke holds, using body cameras, and enhancing training.

The same reforms need to be applied to police at the county, city and town levels including sheriff departments in Virginia. The responsibilities that have befallen the police in the area of mental health need to be assumed more by personnel in the departments responsible for and skilled in this area of concern.

The public demands and legislators will ensure that the public is safe. At the same time we must demand and put into existence a system free of discrimination and inappropriate use of force. That means we need to redefine our expectations of policing and reimagine the role of public safety officers in our society. We must be willing to spend dollars appropriately to accomplish those objectives. It is over-simplifying a complex issue to suggest that we can “defund the police.”

File photo

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Fairfax County Public Schools’ superintendent said he is committed to tackling racism in the public school system during a town hall last night.

The Fairfax County NAACP met with FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand to talk about how to address systemic racism going into the 2020-2021 school year.

The discussion between Sujatha Hampton, the Fairfax County NAACP’s education chair, and Brabrand, along with several other guests, focused on a list of priorities from Fairfax County NAACP to address equity.

Brabrand repeated throughout the town hall that he was ready to be held accountable for making change. “We need to be more comfortable feeling uncomfortable,” Brabrand said at the end of the meeting.

The town hall began with a discussion on COVID-19 and the status of reopening schools. On July 21, Brabrand announced that schools would be opening virtually on Sept. 8. Hampton made it clear that it will be essential to address the inequities that online learning presents in minority communities.

What would an anti-racist school system look like and how can FCPS strive for that? Hampton had several proposals.

One would address the scope of the chief equity officer position within the county, with Hampton noting the importance of hiring someone with “anti-racist” policies versus a traditional hire for the position.

Hampton’s proposed job description included conveying “transformational leadership” and having “successful experience as a change agent.”

“Anti-racism is a fairly new thing for systems to be considering,” said Hampton when emphasizing the importance of radical change with leadership.

Another priority is creating an anti-racist curriculum. FCPS Social Studies Coordinator Colleen Eddy said that they are already in the process of auditing the existing curriculum.

A major topic of discussion was the disproportionate discipline statistics in the county’s schools. Hampton presented a series of data points showcasing the high number of Black students receiving referrals for “disruptive behavior” versus their peers. FCPS Deputy Superintendent Frances Ivey agreed that it’s time to reinforce positive behavior rather than disciplining students.

Hampton also discussed the lack of Black teachers and principles within the school system and emphasized the importance of creating a data-driven plan to hire more Black teachers in a transparent way. She said the culture of a school stems from a principal, and it is “criminal” to give kids a racist principal.

“I want everyone to remember that these are actual children’s lives,” Hampton said.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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Fairfax County NAACP announced a new virtual town hall to discuss system racism in public schools with Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand.

Brabrand was originally going to co-host a town hall on the topic with Fairfax NAACP on July 21. He dropped out of the event, which took place the same night the county’s school board reconsidered reopening plans for schools.

Fairfax NAACP pivoted and used the town hall on July 21 to unveil the organization’s priorities for combatting racism in schools. Fairfax NAACP President Sean Perryman said during the event that the organization would work to reschedule the discussion with Brabrand.

Now, Brabrand and Fairfax NAACP are scheduled to host a town hall from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 5. People can watch the event on Facebook Live.

“One topic that will be discussed is the School-to-Prison Pipeline,” Fairfax NAACP posted on Facebook, sharing a YouTube video by The Root, a Black-oriented online magazine, that explains how the School-to-Prison Pipeline works.

Here’s the event description:

From academic achievement, enrollment at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, to the School Resource Officer program and the school-to-prison pipeline, systemic racism effects our children’s lives every day. This will be a civil discourse where we can openly talk about our and our kids’ experiences, ask questions, and talk about what change looks like.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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Fairfax County NAACP shared nine priorities for tackling racism in the county’s public schools on Tuesday night.

The virtual town hall was originally set to be a two-hour discussion with Superintendent Scott Brabrand, but Brabrand declined and instead attended the school board’s meeting to push for a fully online start to school.

Sujatha Hampton, the chair of Fairfax NAACP’s education committee, presented the nine priorities. “Black kids are regularly asked to swallow their pain,” Hampton said.

The event Tuesday night received more than 1,700 views. Most of the discussion and comments focused on school resource officers (SROs), the Advanced Academic Programs (AAP) and principals’ power.

Advanced Academic Programs

Several commenters claimed that there are “drastic” differences between the general education curriculum and AAP Program. “I support getting rid of the AP program for SO MANY reasons,” one person wrote. “We could do so much more as a school system if we didn’t have it.”

The organization’s president Sean Perryman said that the AAP Program is large, referring to a Washington Post story about students getting into the program through the appeals process.

“There’s a reason for us to look deeply at the AAP Program to see if the juice is worth the squeeze,” Hampton said. “It has so many problems, let’s just take a look at it.”

School Resource Officers

For SROs, Perryman said he wants to have more conversation around the idea of taking officers out of schools, questioning how effective SROs have been in preventing and responding to school shootings. Instead, SROs can increase the school-to-prison pipeline for Black and Latino students, Perryman.

“I know for a lot of people, it gives them heartburn when they think we’re going to take the SROs out of schools because they have this understanding that if a cop is present in the school, my child is safe,” Perryman said.

Especially now that FCPS will start off the school year virtually, Perryman said that state funds that go to SROs can instead get used for therapists — “counselors not cops,” he said.

Principals 

Several commenters agreed that principals should take the lead on creating an anti-racist school culture.

Hampton said that principals have “tremendous power” over their schools — “almost like a mini fiefdom” — when deciding disciplinary actions.

Here are the nine priorities:

  • protect vulnerable students, faculty and staff most impacted by COVID-19
  • add more support for Equity and Cultural Responsiveness Team in schools*
  • have the School Board vote on removing SROs from schools*
  • make curriculum review committees to scrutinize racial/cultural bias*
  • create a plan to hire and improve retention of Black and Latino teachers
  • examine AAP’s admission process, goals, etc.
  • review demographics and accessibility of abstract math, Honors, AP and IB classes to increase Black and Latino students*
  • examine the roles of principals and regional superintendents to ensure effective oversight on equity issues
  • review and revise the admission process to Thomas Jefferson High School
  • *priorities to be completed by end of the upcoming school year

Perryman said that the organization will work to reschedule the discussion with Brabrand.

People can watch the full video on Facebook Live.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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County officials are considering a plan to no longer dispatch police officers to non-violent incidents.

At a meeting earlier this week, Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn pushed the county to dispatch unarmed medical, mental health and human services workers for incidents involving mental and behavioral health issues. The proposal was unanimously approved by the board for consideration.

County staff will review the local dispatch and response system in order to “enhance our Diversion First strategies by implementing systems for the deployment of trained unarmed medical, human services, and mental health professionals in instances where mental and behavioral health are the principal reason for the call.”

The new system would model Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS), an approach adopted in Eugene, Oregon since 1989. The county will determine if a similar approach is suitable for Fairfax County based on potential initial costs, long-term budget savings, overall feasibility, and the expected impact on service.

The county’s Public Safety Committee will review the county’s findings and offer a recommendation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors by Oct. 1.

Roughly 20 percent of calls that FCPD officers respond to are primarily related to mental and behavioral health crises.

In a board matter, Lusk noted that FCPD should “endeavor to be the smartest” and not only the “safest” jurisdiction of its size in the nation.

Currently, only 40 percent of county officers are trained in crisis intervention.

Body camera footage of a white Fairfax County firing a stun gun at a Black man in Gum Springs led Lusk and Alcorn to push for the board matter. Officer Tyler Timberlake shot La Monta Gladney with a stun gun and used his knee to hold him down. Gladney was speaking incoherently prior to the use of force incident as officers persuaded him to go to a detox center.

A copy of the board matter — without the motions —  is below, after the jump.

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This 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.

Readers of this column are certainly aware that on more than one occasion I have praised the work of the 2020 General Assembly session as being historic and transformative.

I believe historians will agree with my assessment of the work of the legislature in the early months of 2020 to rid the state of discrimination of all kinds, but I wonder how they will explain the subsequent phase within several months of its adjournment. Within just a few months, the legislature was faced with the need to take even more historic steps to transform the state and to do so with a sense of urgency.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is an historic event that overlays what was happening in the social and political structure, it played a minor role. If anything, the pandemic demonstrated that the federal government under the current office holders is incapable of taking responsible actions regarding the coronavirus or the social and political unrest that abounds in this country. The pandemic has shown that state governments must step up in leadership related to the health crisis and to the stark inequalities in our society.

The pleas of George Floyd that he could not breathe were echoed by Black persons in Virginia and throughout the country that they could no longer live under the suppression of a knee on their necks that they have endured for centuries and has kept them from realizing equality under the law and in society. That is why the Virginia legislature cannot rest on the important steps it took in the opening months of this year towards a more just society but rather now must take significant next steps in the closing months of this year.

The House Courts of Justice Committee and the Public Safety Committee on which I serve will be identifying the next steps that must be taken beginning in a special session of the legislature in the next month or two. The Legislative Black Caucus has outlined next steps, with which I concur.

These steps include declaring that racism is a public health crisis in the state, reinstituting parole, creating a civilian review board of police actions with subpoena power, defining the use of excessive force including banning the use of chokeholds and ending no-knock warrants.

The Caucus also proposes the important step of investing more in community and less in law enforcement, funding mental health professionals to respond to those who may be having mental health crises, replacing resource officers in schools who are often police personnel with mental health professionals, restricting the use of militarization tactics and weapons against citizens and expanding the use of body cameras.

In issuing its agenda, the Legislative Black Caucus said in a printed release, “And on a larger scale, this moment is calling on leaders to combat institutional racism and societal discrimination that exists in the criminal justice system, economic structures, housing, education, in healthcare, mental health, in environmental policy and many other areas.”

Your suggestions on next steps are welcome, [email protected]

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A virtual town hall next week will tackle systemic racism and equity issues that students face in public schools.

Fairfax County NAACP and Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand are hosting the event.

“From academic achievement, enrollment at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, to the School Resource Officer program and the school-to-prison pipeline, systemic racism affects our children’s lives every day,” the event description says, noting the town hall will focus on students’ experiences.

Previously, FCPS officials and Fairfax NAACP hosted an event in May, where Brabrand said he is committed to seeing the school system work faster to address racism within the public schools, WUSA9 reported.

FCPS plans to announce a new anti-racism curriculum which could start as soon as this fall, Fox5 reported. A recent petition is asking the school system to improve its Black history curricula.

The upcoming town hall is set to take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21.

People interested in watching via Zoom are asked to RSVP. The town hall will also be available on Facebook Live.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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An online petition created by two Fairfax County Public Schools graduates is calling on the school system to improve its Black history curricula.

Tyler Hensen and Rachel Murphy, who are both graduates from 2012, launched the change.org petition, which states that the school system’s curricula are insufficient to address “systemic racism.”

Here’s more from the petition, which has gained 804 signatures so far:

FCPS has played an important role in providing a safe and encouraging place for us to grow as students and world citizens. We have each had our lives positively impacted by the care of hardworking teachers and staff who opened our minds to a range of issues, fields, and passions. In a school system that is home to students who speak over 200 languages, FCPS prides itself on the racial and cultural diversity of its students and staff. However, there is a deficiency in our classrooms regarding education on issues of structural, institutional, individual, and systemic racism. Thus, we are calling for action to be made in the existing curricula and culture, for this action to be overseen by a committee that is responsible and responsive to all stakeholders in the County, and a public statement released by the FCPS School Board committing to lasting change.

We know that this proposal is the beginning of an ongoing conversation between our administration, community, and student body. The basis of justice, equity, and change begins with a properly educated and informed generation. We propose a list of tangible actions which are available to be read here.

In a recent statement, FCPS said teachers are working hard to improve the social studies curriculum:

A group of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) teachers have been collaborating with colleagues from five other Virginia school districts to create a social studies curriculum that presents diverse perspectives and challenges students to critically examine materials, events, and institutions for bias, identity, and multiple perspectives.  The new curriculum will be available to students in grades 3, 4, 6, 7, and 11 as soon as this fall.

Beginning in 2018 under the umbrella of the Virginia Inquiry Collaborative, FCPS teachers worked with colleagues from Albemarle County, Virginia Beach City, and Charlottesville, and later Madison County and Powhatan County Schools, to collaborate aroundcurriculum development designed for use across Virginia, beginning with a focus on fourth grade Virginia Studies. 

According to a WUSA 9 report, the students said they believe their understanding of slavery and racism represents a “tremendous deficiency in the understanding that we are then released into the world as young adults with this really deficient understanding of how we are perpetuating a problem.”

They want the new curricula to emphasize the historical impact of Black leaders, writers, artists, and thinkers.

The petition also calls on FCPS to create a committee that oversees the implementation of “anti-racism” into the curricula and culture.

Photo via Sam Balye/Unsplash

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Recent arrest data released by the Fairfax County Police Department show more evidence of disproportionate policing in the county.

The data indicate that Black individuals make up roughly 39 percent of all arrests last year. Black residents account for 9.7 percent of the total population.

FCPD officers arrested 34,330 people in 2019, 57 percent of which were white. White residents make up roughly 61 percent of the total population.

But more information recently provided on the residence of offenders sheds additional light on racial disparities.

Most arrests of Black individuals — nearly 55 percent — were of people outside Fairfax County. But even Black residents who live in the county were arrested at higher rates (29 percent) relative to their population makeup in the county. In Virginia, Black individuals account for nearly 20 percent of the population. 

The Fairfax NAACP says the latest data provide further evidence of disproportionate policing of Blacks in Fairfax County.

We have significant concerns regarding how the data are being collected and released to the public. But what we know for now is that after “use of force” and other policies have been revised and training has purportedly been improved, the data FCPD has released consistently reveal significant problems with disproportionate policing of people of color. Not only is this unacceptable, but it further demonstrates the urgency of the Fairfax County NAACP’s demand that all relevant data concerning FCPD officers’ interactions with citizens – which was promised in 2015 and is long overdue – must be released,” said Luke Levasseur, the chapter’s criminal justice chair.

Most arrests (66 percent) of white people were of county residents.  Traffic stop data, on the other hand, show minimal disparities.

The police department released its data following calls for police reform and nationwide protests over the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement. FCPD says it is offering more information in an effort to maintain its commitment of transparency. The department held a community town hall about policing issues with Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

Nearly 70 percent of all traffic citations were given to white people, while 18 percent were given to Black individuals. A detailed breakdown of traffic stop data is available online.

Last month, FCPD released additional data on use of force incidents. Black residents were involved in 46 percent of all use-of-force incidents, even though they make up less than 10 percent of the county’s total population.

Researchers at University of Texas at San Antonio are studying the department’s culture after a study released in 2017 found that roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involve a Black individual.

Levasseur says the county needs to do more to improve its policing.

“Fairfax County residents deserve policing that does not disproportionality harm Black people, and we believe that the only way that can be achieved is complete transparency with respect to how the county’s different communities are being policed.”

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