The General Assembly convened for a special session on Tuesday in Richmond — the House at the VCU Segiel Center where all 100 could socially distance.
We were advised by the Virginia Health Department to wear masks. With the exception of a few Delegates, mask-wearing was split along partisan lines: Democrats wore masks and Republicans did not. We argued for hours about virtual meeting rules, again along partisan lines. Current HOD rules do not allow virtual attendance to count towards a quorum or allow virtual voting, We finally passed a rules resolution and sent it to the Senate. The Senate unanimously rejected our resolution. Sad to start with absolutely no cooperation within or between the bodies.
This special session is necessary to bring relief to the many Virginians who need economic and health assistance now and to bring justice to those suffering under our current policing methods and criminal justice system. This suffering is not just lofty words — I am talking about real people with real pain. I planned to tell my colleagues on Tuesday about my friends who are examples of those real people, the real pain and real injustice. But there was no break in the partisan sparing over rules to tell these stories, so I tell you here.
Bijan Ghaisar was a long-time friend. Our families have been friends for years. Bijan was a young man not long out of college, starting his career in his father’s CPA firm. He was charming, bright and much loved. And he was brown, a major factor in his death.He died in November 2017 at the hands of the Park Police. He was stopped for questioning about a fender-bender. Sitting in his car, he was shot in the head by the officers who had stopped him.
SHOT IN THE HEAD. He died a few days later. His family was and is shattered. Their pain has been increased and drawn out to this day because they have not been given an accounting of his murder. They have not been accorded the respect and recognition of loss they deserve. They have been ignored, treated as if Bijan’s life had no value, by their son’s killers.
While the Park Police are federal officers, Fairfax County must grant them permission to legally operate with weapons and full authority in our county, and has done so through an MWAA agreement.
Tony Brown is my friend who Believes in Second Chances. Tony was convicted of malicious felony robbery and sentenced to prison until 2058. While incarcerated at Powhatan and Greensville, he transformed himself into a responsible and conscientious leader, actively working to improve the lives of his fellow inmates and those who worked with them. He became an Assistant Pastor, a GED teacher’s aide for 15 years, an assistant librarian and mentor. He built community by organizing events such as spelling bees and youth basketball tournaments.
He was affectionately known as Mayor Tony. He received a pardon from our Governor and was released this April. He is now employed by the robbery victim, who speaks highly of his character and work ethic. Tony worked hard to deserve a pardon, but he shouldn’t have had to go through the arduous and painfully uncertain pardon process to be released back to his family after such a total rehabilitation.
He should have had the opportunity for parole; he should have been able to achieve Earned Sentencing Credits (ESC) to reduce his prison time. Knowing Tony led me to Chief Co-Sponsor the ESC bill in the House for this special session. He doesn’t speak of criminal justice racism, but like most incarcerated black men, I know he has suffered from it.
Bijan should not have lost his life. Tony should not have been imprisoned with no hope of parole. Real people like Bijan and Tony and their families are victims of an unforgiving and racist system. We have an opportunity now to change — we must take it.