Category Archives: Crime and corrections

Getting Virginians their Lives Back One License at a Time

LaPonda Carter lived with a relative in Amelia County, raising her daughter and driving to her job at the VCU Medical Center in downtown Richmond. She frequently loaned her car to the family member. Unbeknownst to her, the relative racked up frequent toll violations. The charges quickly added up — $0.75 per toll, plus $25 administrative fees for not paying on time, plus $500 court fines, plus court costs. The fees, fines and penalties eventually reached an astonishing total — nearly $100,000. Adding insult to injury, Carter had her license yanked.

By working with Drive-to-Work, a Richmond-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping lower-income Virginians get their driving rights restored, she managed to get her licensed reinstated. Now Drive-to-Work is working with her to resolve the toll-violation cases.

Virginia law allows for the suspension of revocation of driver’s licenses for a wide variety of offenses that have nothing to do with bad driving — collecting court costs, non-payment of civil judgments, and failure to pay child support. Of Virginia’s 5.8 million licensed drivers, 974,000 are under suspended-license orders. While some kind of sanction may be called upon for their offenses, says Drive-to-Work President Randy Rollins, a person deprived of a driver’s license often is unable to work and meet the very obligations the suspended licenses are meant to punish.

Ten years ago when Rollins first approached members of the General Assembly to reform the laws, he typically got a frosty reception. But attitudes are changing among both liberals and conservatives, he says. Restoring drivers licenses increasingly is seen as an issue that both advances social justice and supports individual responsibility and self-help.

The nonprofit group operates first and foremost to help people like Carter get their licenses back and work out arrangements so they can pay their fees, fines and penalties. Case workers have helped more than 2,000 individual clients to date. In a related initiative staffed by volunteer attorneys, Drive-to-Work has given 96 prison seminars to help offenders get their licenses when they are released from custody.

Rollins also is working with the Department of Corrections (DOC) to remove another potential impediment — the need to attend a driver improvement clinic before getting a license reinstated. What better time to attend such a clinic, he asks, than when offenders have lots of free time in prison? Drive-to-Work will deliver a clinic online for $65 per participant, a sum that will be reduced to $20 after DOC and Drive-to-Work subsidies. That program is temporarily in limbo up as DOC undertakes the migration of its IT systems to the state’s new vendor, but Rollins is optimistic the issues will be worked out soon.

In the meantime, Rollins, who served as Secretary of Public Safety during the Wilder administration, is working to help lawmakers identify ways to help the cause. He highlights one piece of successful legislation and two additional measures that he would like to see passed.

Pay plans for court fees. Millions of Virginians live paycheck to paycheck, and they don’t have a spare $1,000 to pay court fines and fees. Rather than suspend their licenses, making it harder to work and pay back anything, a law sponsored by Republican Del. Manoli Loupassi allowed for repaying the fines in agreed-upon installments and restoring the license when the agreement was signed, not later when the fines were paid in full.

After a year’s experience, says Rollins, the law appears to be making a difference. Judges are considering individual circumstances when setting payment agreements, many are requiring lower down payments, and a 10-day grace period is preventing defaults.

Suspensions for civil judgments. If a motorist drives a car while uninsured and causes an accident, his or her license can be suspended for failure to pay civil judgments to the insurance companies. While Rollins agrees that there should be sanctions against people who fail to pay, he says suspending their licenses for reasons unrelated to safety violations makes no sense. The license suspension is just another collection tool. If you owe a hospital money, the hospital can’t suspend your license. If you default on your credit card, the card company can’t suspend your license. Why should insurance companies be treated differently?

Child support payments. Licenses can be suspended for failure to pay child support. Child support obligations can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. While the courts do allow payment plans, the minimum down payment is too high, Rollins argues. A $20,000 obligation, for instance, would require a 5% down payment or $600, whichever was higher — often beyond the means of the poor and near poor. Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, sponsored a bill last year that would have set the obligation at the lower of 5% or $600. The bill was defeated last year.

“Suspensions for child support have nothing to do with traffic safety,” says Rollins. In fact the suspension can be a barrier to gainful employment and reduce the chances for paying any child support.”

Bacon Bits: As Virginia Slowly Unravels

Yes, it’s OK to panic. Norfolk Southern Corp., the beneficiary of local incentives a year or two ago when it moved jobs from Roanoke to Norfolk, now is said to be close to announcing the relocation of its headquarters to Atlanta.  “A deal has already been struck,” Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander told the Virginian-Pilot. It appears that a decision is “going to be made and made soon.”

This will be a huge morale blow to Hampton Roads. Norfolk Southern is one of only two Fortune 500 company in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach side of the metropolitan area. (The other is Dollar Tree. Huntington Ingalls is located north of the James River.) Let’s hope the City of Norfolk can claw back every dime it gave away.

Spend money to make money? The Washington Metro’s executive and board leadership are in a quandary on how to reverse the decline in ridership. The Washington Post quotes an internal study that proffers some answers: Increase the frequency of service and extend hours, thus reversing the decline in so-called “super riders” who use the heavy rail service 40 or more times per month. Metro has cut back its service in recent years as its financial situation has deteriorated.

But the WaPo article is unclear about whether a restoration of service would pay for itself. The article quotes a lot of numbers, but none answer the essential question of whether the ridership revenue generated would equal or exceed the added expense — a critical issue, one would think, for an organization that (a) operates at a loss, and (b) still faces unfunded capital needs and pension liabilities.

Is it “stop and frisk”  or “investigative detention?” The latest uproar in the People’s Republic of Charlottesville is over the alleged police practice of stop-and-frisk, which allegedly disproportionately targets minorities. Roiling the waters even more, Charlottesville’s Police Chief RaShall Brackney said yesterday that data on the city’s policy — whatever you call it — will be unavailable until it is extracted from a new software system, reports the Daily Progress.

Community activists note that African-Americans made up 122 of the 173 people stopped for what the police calls “investigative detention.” Fifty-five of the stops happened after police were dispatched to an area, whereas 118 of those stops were officer-initiated.

Brackney, who is female and black, disputed the stop-and-frisk label. “We don’t do stop and frisk,” she said. “We do either a mere encounter or we engage a person [in] which we may have a warrantless search and seizure. I will not, I will not, label what we do based on some national trends or what New York has decided to do.”

Boomergeddon watch: From Government Executive: The United States Postal Service retirement health fund will run out of money in 12 years if Congress does not act. Approximately 500,000 retirees rely upon the program. The Postal Service has missed $38 billion in required prefunding payments into the retiree health fund since 2010. Either way, someone is screwed. Either postal retirees see major cuts to their pensions or the taxpayers pick up the multibillion-dollar tab.

Legalized Medical and Recreational Marijuana Use Appear to Hurt Alcohol Sales

High times.  In a recent Bacon’s Rebellion column … Will Virginia Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use … I noted that well over 20% of Americans now live in states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  In the column I wondered whether our General Assembly’s reluctance to address the question in a meaningful way might be attributable to Virginia’s unholy trinity of political corruption:

  1. Unlimited campaign contributions
  2. Opposition by well heeled vested interests (i.e., the alcohol manufacturing, distribution and retail industry)
  3. Essentially non-existent rules on the use of, or reporting on, campaign contributions

My hypothesis was that a river of money flows from Virginia’s alcohol industry into the pockets of our elected officials.  The alcohol industry is opposed to legalizing marijuana since legalization hurts alcohol sales.  Meanwhile, our elected officials want to keep the money flow going since it funds not only their re-election plans but also dinners at Bookbinders, golf outings, private clubs and all sorts of other goodies.  Therefore, legalization of marijuana is intentionally stalled in Virginia.  Virginia’s reputation as America’s Most Corrupt State is, in my opinion, well established.  However, the question of whether legalized marijuana use hurts alcohol sales needs to be further examined.

Paging Doctor Weed.  The best information about the impact of marijuana legalization on alcohol sales comes from studies of medical marijuana legalization.  Medical marijuana has been legalized for longer and in more states than recreational marijuana.  Some would say that medical marijuana is a poor proxy for recreational marijuana because medical marijuana is only used to combat disease and therefore is not a substitute for booze.  Yeah, right.  A university study using retail scanner data from 2006 – 2015 found that alcohol sales fell 15% in jurisdictions that legalized medical marijuana.  For the sake of emphasis – this was a study of legal medical marijuana on alcohol sales, not legalized recreational use of marijuana.

The Oregon Trail.  The relationship between legalized recreational marijuana and liquor sales has been studied in Oregon.  In that state, recreational marijuana use is legal at the state level but localities have the right to ban it in their jurisdictions.  A study comparing Oregon localities that allow marijuana sales vs those that don’t found the growth rate of liquor sales for the “booze only” places was faster than in the “booze and reef” areas.  Early days.  Only one year of data.

Miller Time.  A 10-K disclosure by the Molson-Coors company cites legalized cannabis sales as a potential risk to their business. “Although the ultimate impact is currently unknown, the emergence of legal cannabis in certain U.S. states and Canada may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer. As a result, a shift in consumer preferences away from our products or beer or a decline in the consumption of our products could result in a material adverse effect on our business and financial results.”  Four months after citing the business risks of legalized marijuana Molson-Coors announced they are considering the sale of ganja infused beer in Canada.

Rocky Mountain High.  Earlier this year the Aspen Times reported that Aspen’s legal marijuana dispensaries outsold its liquor stores in 2017.  As far as anyone knows, this is the first time such a shift has happened.  I’ll wager it will be far from the last time.

— Don Rippert

Hold On… Marijuana Arrests Going Up?

Map credit: The Virginia Mercury

There is more and more talk in Virginia about decriminalizing marijuana, yet marijuana arrests have increased in the past year, notes the Virginia Mercury.  What’s going on?

The Mercury quotes Dave Albo, a former state delegate and Northern Virginia lawyer Virginia who frequently represents clients on marijuana-possession charges: “My unscientific explanation for this dramatic increase is people are just brazen about it now. They just don’t think of it as illegal, so they’re more apt to carry it around in their pocket, more apt to have it in their car and more apt to sit and smoke it with their friends.”

Sounds plausible to me.

ACLU: The System, Not Female Prisoners, Guilty

You find what you look for. When you look for statistical evidence of discrimination and injustice, you will find it.

In a corrections system in which 85% of prisoners are male, for example, the ACLU of Virginia finds evidence of “widespread and discriminatory suffering” imposed upon women. You see, while women constitute only 15% of Virginia prison inmates, their numbers are increasing at a faster rate than those of men — 32% over the past four years, compared to only 4% for men.

Over a 26-year period, the numbers are even more striking. The commonwealth saw a 930% increase in its female inmate population between 1980 to 2016: from 303 women in prison to 3,123.

“It was fairly shocking,” Bill Farrar, strategic communications director for the ACLU of Virginia told the Virginian-Pilot. “People should care about any group that is marginalized or adversely affected by their government in a disparate way.”

What Farrar finds shocking is not that women commit more crimes than they did three decades, which might be construed as a sign of corrosive social breakdown, but that society is incarcerating women who commit the crimes. In a study that prompted the Virginian-Pilot reporting, “Women in the Criminal Justice System: Pathways to Incarceration in Virginia,” the ACLU argues that many of the crimes are relatively minor in nature — “nonviolent crimes related to property, public order or drugs.” And, of course, the women themselves often are victims — of poverty, drug addiction or domestic abuse.

States the report:

Incarcerated women often become engaged with the criminal justice system as a result of attempts to cope with challenging aspects of their lives, such as poverty, unemployment, and physical or mental health struggles — especially those arising from drug addiction and past instances of trauma. …

The over-incarceration of women is a symptom of a complex network of social barriers, economic inequality, reproductive injustice, and racial and sexual discrimination deeply woven into our society.”

The ACLU’s bottom line: Society is guilty, not the women. The proffered solution: more study, more “training” of employees in the criminal justice system, more spending on social programs, more spending on substance-abuse programs, more spending on programs to deal with sexual victimization, elimination of cash bail, increasing the felony threshold to at least $1,500, repeal of the three-strikes-and-you’re-out law, and a host of other measures.

Bacon’s bottom line: A handful of ACLU recommendations might be worth considering, such as raising the felony threshold for property crimes, and steering women into substance-abuse programs as a first-time alternative to jail and prison. But one doesn’t need to frame such initiatives as responses to “widespread discrimination” in order to justify them.

Furthermore, not all women are in prison because of petty crimes. Roughly one in seven offenders in crimes of violence are women. The ACLU “reform” agenda would serve mainly to cast women as victims and hold them less accountable for responsibility for their actions, but do very little to curb anti-social behavior. 

Crack, Guns and Murder Rates


The 1980s crack epidemic created a vicious spike in homicides in major cities across the United States. As the epidemic faded, so did the street killings. While the murder rate went down for all races, however, it stayed persistently high for one demographic group: young black males. Seventeen years after the arrival of crack in a given city, homicide rates among young black males remained 70% higher than they had been beforehand.

So concludes a newly published study, “Guns and Violence: The Enduring Impact of Crack Cocaine Markets on Young Black Males,” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

“The long run effects of this increase in violence are large,” write the authors William N. Evans, Timothy J. Moore, and Craig Garthwaite. We attribute nearly eight percent of the murders in 2000 to the long-run effects of the emergence of crack markets. Elevated murder rates for younger black males continue through to today and can explain fully one tenth of the gap in life expectancy between black and white males.”

For a work of economics, the driest of the social sciences, this study makes fascinating reading. While the authors themselves do not extrapolate their findings to broader public policy debates, others almost certainly will do so. The study illuminates the causes of black violence in places as disparate as Chicago (66 shot, 12 killed in a recent weekend) and Richmond (five people shot at a Shockoe Bottom restaurant over the weekend). It does not fit easily with liberals’ white oppression/black victimization narrative. Nor does it give any comfort to conservatives’ people-kill-people/guns-don’t-kill-people narrative.

Reality is complex. Ideologically driven narratives do violence to reality. Our job as informed citizens is to fathom those complexities. And this study is a good place to start. Here follow some highlights of the study.

The United States has seen a 25-year decline in its murder rate. Scholars have advanced a variety of theories to explain it — the legalization of abortion, the birth dearth and declining percentage of young males in the population, increased imprisonment rates, changes in police strategies, better emergency medicine, a decline in teen births, and the removal of lead from gasoline. The main flaw in these theories, suggest Evans et al is that they fail to explain the differing experiences of demographic sub-groups: “Young black males in the United States have failed to enjoy a long-run decline similar to other demographic groups, including older black males.”

Between 1968 and 1984 older and younger black males had remarkably similar murder rates. The rates diverged sharply after 1984. The murder rate for young black males roughly doubled by 1993, peaking at 164 murders per 100,000 population. While their murder rate fell to half the peak six years later, it declined only slightly thereafter. As a result, in 2015 the murder rate for young black males was 23 percent higher than the rate in 1984. By contrast, the murder rate of older black males fell by 54%.

The murder rate among whites likewise surged between 1984 and 1992 (though from a lower base and by a smaller percentage). Unlike the experience of young black males, the murder rate for young white males continued to decline throughout the 2000s.

Here is the authors’ explanation:

The daily experiences of young black males were fundamentally altered by the emergence of crack cocaine markets in the United States. … The diffusion of guns both as a part of, and in response to, these violent crack markets permanently changed the young black males’ rates of gun possession and their norms around carrying guns.

Large-scale cocaine traffic entered the United States in the early 1980s, driven by the Latin American drug cartels. Initially, the drug was expensive, making it unaffordable to lower-income populations. But the innovation of cooking cocaine with baking soda and water, allowing it to cool and harden so it could be broken into “rocks” that could be smoked, expanded the market. A single dosage could be sold profitably for as little as $2.50, which lower-income Americans could afford.

Unlike powder cocaine, which tended to be sold discretely in private locations between dealers and customers who had pre-existing business relationships, crack was sold frequently in small doses between dealers and customers had made no pre-existing contacts — in open-air markets. The nature of the crack market put a premium on certain geographic locations. Drug dealers began using violence to defend their turf from competitors.

As crack dealing spread from the original cocaine depots of Miami, New York and Los Angeles to smaller cities, violence spread with it. Crack arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1985 and in Hampton Roads in 1987, according to data in the article’s appendix. (Crack came to Richmond, situated on the crack highway of Interstate 95, about the same time.) Murder rates soared. Killings were so prevalent in Richmond that the city became notorious as a “murder capital” of the U.S. Everywhere it went, crack changed local attitudes toward guns. Write Evans et al:

The violence from crack markets was not limited solely to its participants. While organized crack markets were primarily run by young black males, the majority of black males avoided participation in these illicit activities. … Instead, their close proximity to friends and acquaintances involved in the drug trade exposed them to increased risk of violence, a fact that encouraged many to carry guns.

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The Va. Political Class in Action: Tidewater Edition

Shaun Brown

From the Daily Press: Federal prosecutors say they have evidence of congressional candidate Shaun Brown, a Democrat running as an independent, of “lying to an investor and falsifying campaign finance information to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).”

Brown currently faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and causing false records, wire fraud, theft of government property and asset forfeiture. The charges are related to a company she runs that is reimbursed for providing food to low-income children in the summer. …

Prosecutors claim to have evidence that Brown falsely reported giving — and being reimbursed for — more than $700,000 to her campaign for the 2nd congressional district, which runs from Williamsburg to Virginia Beach. …

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also claimed to have evidence that in 2014, Brown and another person convinced a third person — identified only as “S.P.” — to invest $100,000 in JOBS Community Outreach Development Corp., the company Brown runs that helps give low-income kids meals in the summer, when they’re not in school, through a program called Summer Food Service Program. Brown said S.P. would get a return of $750,000 within a year, but S.P. said no money has been returned, according to what prosecutors claim in the court filing. …

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia claims that Brown directed her company to inflate the number of children they actually fed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Virginia Department of Health, which help reimburse companies for their costs. Prosecutors have also accused Brown of falsifying documents in order to get more money from the government.

The list of particulars goes on, but you get the idea. Brown’s jury trial starts July 24 in Norfolk. Helluva way to conduct a congressional campaign!

Note: This article has been corrected to note that Brown, though a Democrat, is running as an independent.

Revisiting Virginia’s Public Accommodation Laws

Virginia is for lovers haters. A sad scene unfolded in Lexington, Va., last Friday evening. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Trump’s press secretary, tried to enjoy a meal with her family at the Red Hen restaurant. The owner, a New York transplant named Stephanie Wilkinson, asked the Sanders party to leave the restaurant after starting their appetizers. Wilkinson claims that she spoke with the staff at her restaurant and they jointly decided to ask the Sanders party to leave. This was done because of Ms. Sanders employment by the Trump Administration.

However, Ms. Wilkinson’s account of the event is at odds with what really happened. In an interview with the Washington Post Wilkinson said, “I am not a huge fan of confrontation,” in an effort to justify her confrontation with the Sanders party. However, subsequent to her Mahatma Gandhi impersonation it has come out that Wilkinson’s confrontation of the Sanders party didn’t stop at the Red Hen restaurant. During a talk radio interview Sanders’ father, former Governor Huckabee, related the rest of the story. After being tossed out of the Red Hen Sarah Sanders and her husband left their group. As the remainder of the group went to another restaurant Wilkinson followed them somehow arranging for people to continue the harassment at the new restaurant. It seems that Ms. Wilkinson is not only a huge fan of confrontation but a huge fan of the liberal art of lying through her teeth as well. I have looked and found no refutation of Sen Huckabee’s account of the story by Ms. Wilkinson. Following a group of people from restaurant to restaurant is certainly confrontational but is it stalking? Stalking is a crime in Virginia. The applicable code can be found here.

Let’s add knucklehead to the list. The original party at the Red Hen consisted of Ms Sanders, her husband and some of her in-laws. Her in-laws are described as liberals who do not support the Trump Administration. Therefore, the people Wilkinson followed and harassed were a bunch of anti-Trump liberals. So, at the second restaurant, a group of Trump-opposing liberals were harassing a group of Trump-opposing liberals. It seems we can safely add knucklehead to the list of adjectives describing Ms. Wilkinson.

The other Red Hen. In the City of Washington, D.C., there is another Red Hen restaurant with no affiliation to the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Va. People, presumably conservatives, who wanted to counter-protest the actions of Wilkinson managed to become knuckleheads themselves. The D.C.-based Red Hen restaurant has been “tarred and feathered” by people trying to protest Ms Sanders’ treatment at a wholly different restaurant located 200 miles away.  Interestingly, Ms. Sanders would not have been turned away from the Red Hen in Washington, D.C., since that city forbids discrimination in a public accommodation based on political affiliation. You can find the code here. The city of Seattle and the U.S. Virgin Islands have similar bans on discrimination based on political affiliation.

Has anybody seen my governor? If Ralph Northam maintained any lower of a profile his face would start appearing on milk cartons trying to locate our lost governor. The Red Hen incident happened in Virginia. Where is Virginia’s governor with his take on this? A web search of “Ralph Northam” and “Red Hen” produces no relevant results. Is this incident at the Red Hen restaurant how Virginia wants to be seen? Does public harassment help our “Virginia is for Lovers” image? I think not. Should Virginia broaden its public accommodation law to be more like D.C., Seattle and the USVI? I think so. While I’d hope that proper Virginians wouldn’t bring shame to the Commonwealth by refusing service to somebody based on their political affiliation, I have to recognize that carpetbagging asshats like Stephanie Wilkinson will do just that. Time to squelch this now.

— Don Rippert

Will the Real Corey Stewart Please Stand Up?

Minnesota Confederate? Corey Stewart was born in Duluth, Minnesota. He grew up in Minnesota attending St. Olaf College before transferring to Georgetown University to finish his BS degree. He then went back to Minnesota to attend law school before moving permanently to Northern Virginia. So it comes as something of a surprise that this transplanted Minnesotan has such a taste for the Confederate flag. Corey Stewart is a hard man to categorize.

Take my wife, please. Corey Stewart was first elected to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in 2003 at the relatively young age of 35. Three years later he became the Chairman of the PWC BoS, a position he still holds. His initial notoriety came from the aggressive anti-illegal immigrant posture taken by the entire PWC BoS starting in 2007. The board allowed county police to check the immigration status of anyone, even if the person in question was not suspected of any wrongdoing. The board then cut off all county aid to illegal immigrants. While some say Stewart is anti-immigrant, there is apparently one immigrant that Stewart likes – his wife Maria. Maria is from Sweden and met Corey while they were both teaching English in Japan. Why am I suddenly hearing Chuck Berry lyrics in my head … “I met a German girl in England who was going to school in France”?

If at first you don’t succeed. Stewart is a fixture as Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. He’s won four elections to that post getting 57% of the vote in the last of these elections (2015). However, he failed to get the Republican nomination for Lt Governor in 2013, was fired by the Trump Campaign from his post of Virginia campaign manager in 2016 and failed to get the Republican nomination for Governor in 2017. Today, he has won the Republican nomination for US Senate and is running against Tim Kaine. Stewart is widely expected to lose.

Unusual behavior. During his run for Governor Stewart gave away an AR-15 for Christmas. When asked why he was giving away an AR-15, Stewart said that he just couldn’t find a man portable mini-gun to give away. Actually he never said that. However, he did claim in a March, 2018 tweet that that you’re more likely to be killed by Hillary Clinton than an AR-15. During 2017 he used his position on the PWC BoS to support the construction of a mosque in the so-called Rural Crescent area of Prince William County. He was singled out for thanks by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS).  He also faced a recall petition for supporting the Mosque. After losing the Governor’s primary to Ed Gillespie Stewart took to Reddit to call Gillespie a “cuckservative” but then went on to support Gillespie’s campaign.

A hard man to summarize. Stewart is the Minnesota Confederate who supposedly hates immigrants but is married to one. He pushes anti-illegal immigrant laws while supporting the construction of a mosque at risk to his own political career. He can’t lose as BoS Chairman but can’t win much of anything else. He gratuitously insults opponents from his own party and then endorses them for office. He pals around with ultra-right winger Paul Nehlen and then repudiates him after finding out that Nehlen issued anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic tweets in 2016.

Conclusion? I have no conclusion. Corey Stewart is a paradox shrouded in inconsistency while wearing dichotomy’s clothes. I’ll wait for this election to play out a bit more before making a final judgement on Corey Stewart. However, if I were a hashtag artist today I’d have to consider #loon, #sloppy, #impulse_control_issues. But I don’t buy #racist.

— Don Rippert

What happened to Bijan Ghaisar?

Tragedy in Fairfax County. Bijan Ghaisar was a McLean-based accountant and graduate of Langley High School. On Nov 17, 2017 he was driving southbound on the George Washington Parkway north of Old Town, Alexandria. His vehicle was rear-ended by an Uber driver and, for reasons nobody can understand, Ghaisar fled the scene in his Jeep. It was very strange that the victim of a rear-end collision would flee. However, things got much stranger from there.

Ghaisar’s Jeep was spotted on the GW Parkway by the U.S. Park Police and they attempted to pull Ghaisar over. Ghaisar pulled over, Park Police approached with guns drawn and Ghaisar inexplicably drove away. After a low-speed chase Ghaisar pulled over a second time, Park Police approached a second time and Ghaisar fled again. By this time Ghaisar had entered Fairfax County and a Fairfax County police cruiser (with his dash cam on) joined the pursuit. The third stop happened at the intersection of Fort Hunt Road and Alexandria Avenue. This stop seemed like it would be a repeat of the first two stops except that when Ghaisar started to pull away the Park Policemen fired nine shots into Ghaisar’s car hitting him four times in the head. He died 10 days later of his wounds. The video from the Fairfax County patrol car has been released. Warning: it is extremely graphic and terribly tragic. Readers should view this only after considering how it might affect them.

Investigations and avoiding conflicts of interest. In order to avoid conflicts of interest the FBI has been asked to investigate the killing and the D.C. prosecutors will bring charges if justified. While it’s admirable that the investigation and possible prosecution will he handled by parties at arm’s length to the law enforcement agencies involved, the investigators’ silence to date has been deafening. After more than seven months the Park Police officers involved have not been named, federal officials have refused to meet with local politicians and the DoJ has blocked the release of the 911 call related to this incident.

Protests and rallies. The cloak of silence surrounding the killing of Bijan Ghaisar has frayed the nerves of many in the Ft. Hunt community where Bhaisar was killed. Needless to say, his family is distraught. On May 19 family and friends of Ghaisar along with local politicians held a rally at the Department of Justice demanding answers. State Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, (one of the few General Assembly members who consistently make sense) said, “It is absolutely crazy that it has now been six months of silence from the authorities … when you watch the video, Bijan is not speeding or driving aggressively. Nothing in that video said that anybody should be shot four times in the head. This is happening way too much in this country and in Northern Virginia. It is so important that we get transparency on this.” Amen, Scott.

Update. As of this date, no information has been released by the authorities. Yesterday, FBI agents brought Ghaisar’s Jeep back to the scene of the killing. They were seen conducting ballistics analyses and using a metal detector in the nearby woods. Asked if agents were searching for something thrown from the Jeep they refused to answer. Why it took over seven months to go through this exercise is anybody’s guess. And let’s hope to heaven that they don’t claim to find a gun in woods near the scene of the killing more than seven months after it happened.

My take. Watching the dash cam video makes it hard to understand why the Park Police felt the need to fire nine times into Ghaisar’s Jeep. However, I will carefully read the final report before I pass judgement. Yet beyond this specific incident, this type of thing is happening far too often in the United States. President Trump would be well advised to launch a national task force to analyze these police killings and find way to combat this plague of violence. Something is wrong and something needs to be done.

— Don Rippert