NEARLY 1,000 people were killed by police in America last year, but extremely few of them under circumstances remotely resembling those surrounding the death of Bijan Ghaisar, a young man fatally shot by U.S. Park Police in November just outside the District. Ghaisar was unarmed. He had no known mental illness. And to all appearances — a clear dash-cam video shows two Park Police officers opening fire at him — there was no reason police should have drawn their weapons, let alone pointed them at him, to say nothing of pulling the trigger.
More than four months have elapsed since the evening Ghaisar was shot, and the incident remains as unexplained as when it happened on Nov. 17 just off the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Northern Virginia. The Park Police have said next to nothing about Ghaisar’s death. They have offered the public, and Ghaisar’s family, no defense, no rationale and no remorse, nor even released the names of the two officers, who are on administrative leave. The FBI, which is handling the investigation, is closemouthed.
It beggars belief that a promising young man is gunned down by uniformed officers and the upshot of the event is month after month after month of official silence. At some point there must be accountability — but when?
The sequence of events that led to Ghaisar’s shooting is bizarre and does nothing to dispel the impression that his death was needless. Yes, he left the scene of a hit-and-run accident. But it was Ghaisar’s vehicle that was rear-ended before he drove off. Yes, when Ghaisar’s Jeep Grand Cherokee was pursued by the Park Police, he twice pulled over and then twice pulled away again, defying the officers who ordered him from his car. But he did so at a moderate speed, making no attempt to outrun or escape the police. Yes, he should have complied with police orders. But what were they doing in the first place pursuing him with brandished weapons following an incident that was no more than a minor fender bender, with no injuries and minimal property damage?
To put it mildly, the officers’ conduct seemed at odds with good and standard police procedures, which strongly discourage pursuits unless the public would be at risk from a fleeing suspect. The Park Police’s own long-standing policy allows officers to give chase only if a felony has occurred, which in this case seems doubtful, or if a suspect poses “a clear and immediate threat to public safety.” There is no indication Ghaisar presented such a threat.
As for approaching his car with guns drawn, which the officers did twice, that also defies common sense and sound procedure. In the dash-cam video, recorded by a Fairfax County police cruiser that tailed the Park Police car, the officers are seen opening fire after Ghaisar’s vehicle has stopped, and is starting to roll slowly away again — and presenting no visible threat to anyone. Incredibly, they fired nine bullets at Ghaisar, hitting him four times in the head.
Official silence is no longer acceptable. A man is dead. Why?