The sound of nine gunshots echoed off the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday night as family and friends of Bijan Ghaisar bowed their heads and revisited their grief.
Exactly one year and eight minutes after two U.S. Park Police officers shot Ghaisar as he sat, unarmed, behind the wheel of his Jeep Grand Cherokee, his family and hundreds of supporters gathered at the foot of the Reflecting Pool to honor his memory and replay the recording of the gunfire that left him mortally wounded with four bullets to the head.
U.S. Park Police, and the FBI as the investigating agency, have been resolute in their silence about the slaying on Nov. 17, 2017, refusing to name the two officers involved, explain why they shot Ghaisar or decide whether they should face any charges. So the Ghaisars have been just as resolute in demanding answers. They have demonstrated outside the Justice Department. Outside the Interior Department. (U.S. Park Police is an arm of Interior.) Outside the district station where the two officers worked. They even protested outside the Lincoln Memorial last year, shortly after Ghaisar’s death, when it seemed answers might come soon.
“I have a speech,” Ghaisar’s mother, Kelly said Saturday. “But everything I want to say has been said tonight and many, many, many times before.” She asked the federal officials involved if they were home and cozy on a cold Saturday night, then tore into them. “Shame on you for your silence,” she said. “Shame on you for holding yourselves out as public servants.”
Ghaisar, 25, was a native of Northern Virginia and a graduate of Langley High School and Virginia Commonwealth University. He lived in Tysons Corner, and worked as an accountant for his father. The two were scheduled to have dinner on the night Ghaisar was shot.
At 7:30 p.m. Ghaisar was driving his Jeep south on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Alexandria when he suddenly stopped in the left lane of traffic, according to a Park Police report. His Jeep was struck from behind by a Toyota Corolla. The driver of the Corolla, working for Uber, told police that Ghaisar then drove away. The Uber driver called 911 and provided Ghaisar’s license plate, “BIJAN.”
Several minutes later, two officers in a Park Police SUV spotted Ghaisar’s Jeep on the parkway south of Alexandria. They followed him and signaled for him to pull over. He did, twice, according to video recorded by an in-car camera in a Fairfax County police cruiser trailing the two vehicles. Each time, the Park Police officers approached Ghaisar’s Jeep with guns drawn, and each time Ghaisar drove off, the video shows.
Ghaisar stopped a third time, at a stop sign in the Fort Hunt area of Fairfax County. The Park Police SUV pulled in front of the Jeep to block it from leaving. But as the officers approached from the side, Ghaisar tried to slowly maneuver around the Park Police SUV again. The two officers fired nine shots, stopping only when Ghaisar’s Jeep tipped over into a ditch. He remained in a coma for 10 days before dying on Nov. 27, 2017.
The two officers were initially placed on paid leave and are now on administrative duty with pay, the Park Police have said. Park Police Chief Robert D. MacLean has not spoken publicly about the incident. The Park Police has jurisdiction in several Northern Virginia counties under Virginia law, so they initially headed the investigation before passing it to the FBI. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is overseeing the probe, and there is no indication when it will make a decision. A Washington Post review of recent civil rights cases involving police or corrections officers found the average time between an incident and charges to be more than three years. Ninety-six percent of such cases result in no charges filed.
Friends from high school, college and from the Iranian community, as well as many who never knew Ghaisar showed up Saturday night to offer their support to his family. Repeatedly, they joined in a chant led by Ghaisar’s brother-in-law Kouros Emami, increasing in volume as the night wore on: “We want names. We want justice. We are Bijan.”
“We’re just concerned citizens,” said Carolyn Afshar of Washington. “A year, and this family hasn’t had any ideas what happened. It’s been too long. They are owed an answer by the government.” Similar sentiments were expressed by speakers from Amnesty International, the NAACP, Mothers Against Police Brutality, Virginia state Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax County) and Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield).
“A year,” said Ghaisar’s father, James. “Over 31 million seconds have passed since you were brutally killed. The thought of not being able to see you and hold you in my arms is killing me.”
“It is unbelievable that we are here today,” said Ghaisar’s fraternity brother Kyle Groome. “We were not meant to be here under these circumstances. No transparency. No answers. No justice.”