The tragic, horrible news came early Friday morning. An ongoing police search found two bodies buried in the rough terrain of Holmes Run Stream Valley Park. The discovery was in the same general area where, in 2014, two other bodies were found after tips from local gang members were given to the FBI and the police. The perpetrators in the 2014 gang murders were arrested, tried in federal court, convicted, and are serving mandatory life sentences. The investigation surrounding Friday’s discovery still is underway.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved funding for a dedicated gang unit in the police department. Prior to that time, the unit “borrowed” officers from each police station, as needed. The new unit was dedicated to the prevention, intervention, interdiction, and suppression of gang activity in the county, and educated the school system and the community about gangs, the role of parents and mentors, after-school programs, and other aspects crucial to helping youth make good decisions. Members also participated with the federal gang task force created with the support of former Congressman Frank Wolf.
After-school programs and new youth activities blossomed. The very popular Culmore Youth Soccer summer program, originally funded through the Hispanic Business for Youth Foundation, became a full-blown community activity under the auspices of Neighborhood and Community Services; the Culmore Character Club now is part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington; the Morningstar program for girls expanded to include brothers, sisters, and cousins – all learning how to make healthy decisions for themselves. All these resources had a marked effect on tamping down serious gang activity in the community for many years.
Regional Gang Summits were held, sponsored jointly by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Cox Communications, local police agencies, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The summits helped develop a regional strategy, with various stakeholders, to more thoroughly understand gangs and their activities, and develop effective anti-gang strategies. Young people concerned about gangs made a full-blown presentation at public hearings about the FY 2006 budget. Despite such ongoing efforts, gang activity continues, usually against fellow gang members, and with increased and hard-to-fathom brutality.
Gang activity, police response, community efforts, and other issues will be discussed at a special Mason District Town Hall Meeting I am hosting on Wednesday, March 29, at 7 p.m., at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale. The presentation, which is in formation, will include representatives from the police department, school system, county agencies, and nonprofit organizations.
Attacks against Jewish schools and cemeteries, Muslim mosques, and other places sacred to one’s faith are outrageous, cowardly, and heinous. An impromptu gathering of elected officials and religious leaders at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia last Friday focused on stopping hate in any form, and coalescing around the interfaith values that have long identified this nation. Openness, respect, and unity, for all religious beliefs, made me proud to be in Fairfax County, where we celebrate diversity and work to solve problems, not create them.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]