According to eyewitness accounts, Falls Church Chief of Police Mary Gavin captivated the meeting of all key City staff personnel at City Hall last Monday with her powerful remarks about the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week that has triggered more than a week of mass protests across the U.S.
Chief Gavin minced no words when she expressed her “personal outrage” at the killing caught on video, the officer now charged with 2nd degree murder, and said, “This incident was not a training error or a policy mistake. It was an intentional and barbaric act by a police officer only to be reinforced by additional officers on the scene who chose not to intervene and ensure the safety of Mr. Floyd as he begged for his life.”
She went on, “Each and every one of these atrocities amplifies the pain felt in our minority communities. When public servants fail us by abusing the authority invested in them by the community they have sworn to protect and serve, it destroys trust and partnerships, the fabric of our community. I want to repeat, the authority of a police officer is the community’s authority, not any individual officer’s alone.”
Chief Gavin put her comments in written form, published in full at the end of this article. But she was not the only Falls Church leader to go on record expressing outrage at the George Floyd murder and to reach out in solidarity with the communities of color in the U.S., as hundreds of thousands have in a full week of mass demonstrations in every major city in the U.S., as well as many smaller ones like Falls Church.
Two demonstrations in Falls Church are set for the next few days, beginning with a march today, Thursday, June 4, departing at 1:30 p.m. from the entrance to the West End Park and proceeding through the center of the downtown back to the starting point.
The march is organized by two rising juniors at George Mason High School who urge fellow students and the public to join them. Sarah Ettinger and Ariana Hameed are the organizers, and in a statement, Ettinger wrote, “This march is open to the public and will be starting and ending at West End Park. We are marching to show support and solidarity for people of color, to be allies, and take a stand for justice for George Floyd and the many others who have lost their lives based on the color of their skin.”
She added that, “Additionally, the police will be there to block off streets as well as march with us in solidarity to George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. We wanted to bring awareness to this issue to our community. As a community, we can do better. Also if younger children plan on attending, they should be with their parents. All participants must be wearing face masks and remembering to social distance.”
The second event will be held at Cherry Hill Park on Sunday, June 7, at 1 p.m. organized by two former George Mason High School students, Tara Guido and Loreto Martinez.
They report that Falls Church Mayor David Tarter, Sean Perryman, president of the Fairfax NAACP, and Alexandria City Councilman John Chapman will be among the speakers.
Joining others making strong statements on the situation, the entire Falls Church City Council signed off on a lengthy letter saying of the death of George Floyd, “His needless and wrongful death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers breaks the hearts of our community and we grieve together. Mr. Floyd’s death lays bare once again a long-troubling truth that minorities in this country disproportionately experience violent and fatal encounters with police. It is a truth which all must confront.”
In the letter, the Council members promise “to work together to undo the culture of racism that has been perpetuated through systematic racial disparities in education, housing, healthcare and economic opportunity.”
All seven members of the F.C. City Council signed the letter, along with City Manager Wyatt Shields.
Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan issued a strong statement as well, saying of the FCCPS system, “As leaders of equity who are focused on creating a culture of care for students and staff, it is our collective responsibility as a community to engage with, self-reflect on one’s role within, and push against the structures that yield inequalities.”
He added, “We need to take a proactive approach and thus, our focus on this work must be steady, consistent and always. FCCPS is committed to being equity champions.”
The executive committee of the Citizens for a Better City (CBC), the City’s venerable civic activist organization, issued a statement it published in this edition of the News-Press saying “We feel compelled to express our grief over the death of George Floyd and support the nationwide outcry it has prompted,” adding, “the tumultuous events of the past week have brought our nation to an ominous juncture…we offer our resolute voices in support of meeting the challenges ahead.
“The forces of our nation’s dark side — fear, intolerance, hatred, violence and indifference — must be confronted and overcome.”
All members of the CBC’s executive committee, including Hal Lippman (president), Sally Ekfelt, Richard McCall, Tom Clinton, Phil Duncan, Lindy Hockenberry, Brian O’Connor, Jody Acosta, Nancy Brandon, Julie Krachman, Tim Stevens, Ken Feltman and Harry Shovlin, signed the statement.
The City’s non-profit theater performance and education entity, the Creative Cauldron, also weighed in forcefully with a statement endorsed by its entire 23-member board, stating, “We stand in solidarity against the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbrey, Tony McDade, Beonna Taylor and too many more Black Americans who have died at the hands of white supremacy, police brutality and other racist systems in our country.”
It adds, “We are beyond grateful to the Black artists, producers, activists, performers, musicians, scholars, students, patrons and community members who have chosen to do their work at Creative Cauldron…We pledge to be allies in this quest for racial justice.”
Full Statement of Falls Church
Police Chief Mary Gavin
I am profoundly sorry and saddened by the senseless death of Mr. George Floyd.
Again, as a nation, we are confronted with a horrific event where we witnessed the murder of an African American male, George Floyd, at the hands of a police officer. This incident is one of many that has outraged communities across this nation and creates deep personal wounds, especially for our minority communities.
Personally, I am outraged and sickened by what we all have witnessed and the damaging effects this has on our society as a whole. This incident was not a training error or a policy mistake; it was an intentional and barbaric act by a police officer only to be reinforced by additional officers on the scene who chose not to intervene and ensure the safety of Mr. Floyd, as he begged for his life.
Each and every one of these atrocities amplifies the pain felt in our minority communities. When public servants fail us by abusing the authority invested in them by the community they have sworn to protect and serve, it destroys trust and partnerships, the fabric of our community.
I want to repeat: the authority of a police officer is the community’s authority, not any individual officer’s alone.
There is nothing more sacred in police work than the trust of the community in which we serve. Every police officer swears to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and our First Amendment guarantees all Americans to the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press to report, and the right for people to peaceably assemble. These are legally protected actions in our Commonwealth and Country. I denounce any actions made by police officers to actively impede the rights of journalists or people protesting peacefully. We in law enforcement must always strive to protect the rights of civil discourse in our nation as it is the vehicle of change.
At every police officer’s swearing-in at the City of Falls Church, we introduce them to the Falls Church community’s values and reinforce that the authority invested in them is that of the community’s. I intentionally repeat to the newly sworn police officer and remind tenured officers present that the City of Falls Church beholds all authority. Police authority is to be used with respect and restraint with all people, in all circumstances. In our police department, we have gone as far as to take the words citizen and resident out of our policies and nomenclature to reinforce equality for all people.
In creating a healthy and nurturing culture within the police department, we intentionally hire people from diverse backgrounds and ensure inclusiveness with our policies and practices. We are not without fault and mistakes, but it is our responsibility to be responsive, identify issues, investigate, and take corrective action. For officers or employees that egregiously violate policy or the rights of others, they are relieved of duty and dismissed from the police department. We should act and be seen as neighbors, friends, and family to the community we serve.
As the Chief of Police, I could list the hours of training for the use of force or equipment provided to ensure the safety of all involved in arrests.
However, the issues we have before us are more profound beyond any one single police department. As a profession, we must confront our cultural problems with community dialog, training, policy, and leadership of police organizations. We must make every effort to change this profession by challenging our fundamental mission of public safety. The enforcement of laws is only a small percentage of the actions we take daily. Public safety should and must be our primary focus.
There is a need for structural change within our profession. Simply firing bad actors when they abuse or exploit their role as public guardians are mere cosmetic solutions to a deeper problem. It’s up to the leaders within our profession to call for this systemic change and be ready to embrace change in whatever form it takes and lead by example to all officers within our ranks.
In my own discussions within the City of Falls Church Police Department, our officers have expressed a desire to engage the community and create dialog for real change. On behalf of these officers and the department, we denounce the actions we have witnessed and want to listen, hear, understand, and act on our community’s concerns so that we may ensure justice and peace.
Chief of Police, City of Falls Church