In Chicago last week, another police officer went on trial in the death of another teenager, Laquan McDonald, who, although he carried a knife, was shot to death as he appeared to veer away from police as they approached him.
Those are two instances of the justice system functioning as it should — in the first instance, by holding to account an officer who abused his authority and used lethal force without just cause; in the second, by weighing that same question.
Those two cases stand in sharp contrast to a shooting nearly 10 months ago by two U.S. Park Police officers, who killed an unarmed young man in a residential area of Fairfax County near Alexandria, across the Potomac from Washington. Clear video evidence from a police car’s dashboard camera suggests the man, Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old accountant from McLean, posed absolutely no danger to the police when they shot him. In fact, Mr. Ghaisar’s car, which had been rear-ended by another vehicle a few minutes earlier, was rolling slowly away from the officers when they opened fire.
That incident took place on Nov. 17. Yet here we are, in September 2018, and there has been nothing: no information released by either the Park Police or the FBI, which is supposedly conducting an investigation. No charges. No identification of the officers. Not even an explanation of why the police believed themselves justified (if they did) in pulling the trigger.
It is, from all appearances, a conspiracy of silence.
We’re not much given to conspiracy theories, but it is difficult to formulate an explanation for the curtain of mystification that has dropped over the death of Mr. Ghaisar. There has not been a shred of accountability. From all available evidence, one might conclude that the Park Police feels justified in shooting motorists on the George Washington Parkway, which it patrols, for any reason whatsoever. One might further conclude that the FBI, whose investigation seems to have been desultory at best, couldn’t care less.
Mr. Ghaisar was unwise to have driven off after his car was rear-ended on the parkway that evening. He should have stopped and waited for police to arrive. He was further unwise in not heeding the Park Police officers who twice tried to pull him over. (When they approached him with guns drawn — in blatant contravention of usual police procedures — he drove off.)
Police are justified in using deadly force when their lives or the lives of others are in imminent danger. They are not justified in doing so when they are frustrated, annoyed or flustered by events. The authorities — the FBI, the Park Police, the Interior Department and the Justice Department — cannot stay mute any longer on Mr. Ghaisar’s death.