Va. Protesters Demand Changes Following Death of Mentally Ill Woman in Police Custody ________________________________________
by: Linda Poulson Special to the AFRO
Virginia residents recently confronted local leaders over the ruling that the death of a mentally ill Black woman in northern Virginia was an accident.
Protestors on Sept. 14 questioned the accountability of the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office at an Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission panel held at Walt Whitman Middle School in Alexandria, Va.
The residents were inflamed by the ruling that the death while in police custody of 37-year-old Natasha McKenna, who suffered from schizophrenia, was an accident. A video of the incident was released months after her death, showing apparent rough treatment and multiple uses of a tazer device as McKenna was transferred from one cell at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center to another.
“Her death was murder but ruled an accident, as if it never happened,” said one protester. “That is a problem for me, as a Black woman, in this country because Natasha McKenna is me; and to say that her death is an accident is a move that you just learn from, I have a problem with that. When you have a problem with something especially that stems from systems of oppression, I dismantle that s**t.”
The packed audience included protesters from the Black Lives Matter campaign and other residents who believed immediate changes in police procedures were needed.
“I’ve never seen a level of distrust and disrespect for the police, it’s just really troubling,” said a resident. “We’ve come up with a list of recommendations that really make sense and why in the hell didn’t we implement these years ago?” The speaker referred to a list of proposals for improvements in police action, given to the panel in 2004.
“More people of color, you need to include the homeless and their organizations, and all other marginalized people to be included in these commissions and committees,” said another resident. “Otherwise, you’re wasting our time and the taxpayer’s money.”
Another resident raised questions on the procedures police used while handling McKenna. At the time of her death, she was awaiting transportation to Alexandria, Va. where she was wanted for assaulting an officer.
“Why was she tazed four times? Why were her hands and feet bound?” the resident said. “People all over the world, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean, Africa; have seen this horrific video showing a mentally ill young Black woman treated in such a brutal manner. These same people ask me is the United States really that violent?”
The Washington Post reported that McKenna only weighed 130 pounds at the time of her death. According to McKenna’s family attorney, Harvey J. Volzer, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 12 and struggled with the disease throughout her life. The AFRO attempted to contact Mr. Volzer several times with no response.
One protester stated the video “looked liked a rape and an electrocution at the same time,” as McKenna was naked when guards threw her to the ground. “Where were the women guards?” the protester asked.
Heard on the video, Natasha McKenna’s last words as she was taken from her jail cell were “You promised you wouldn’t kill me.” Several protestors at the rally said the promise was never intended to be kept.
Demonstrators Appear at Hearing After Inmate Death
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Demonstrators appeared at a hearing on police practices to call for reforms, days after Fairfax County prosecutors announced the decision not to charge deputies in an inmate’s death.
Before the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission met Monday night in Alexandria, dozens of people stood outside. Some held signs reading “Justice for Natasha McKenna” and “Film the Police.” The commission is focused on county police, not the sheriff’s department, which manages the jail. Still, several people spoke out at the hearing about the death of McKenna several days after a struggle with deputies.
The commission heard a report from a subcommittee focused on use of force, which is making about 40 recommendations, including asking patrol officers to wear body cameras. The commission is set to meet again Oct. 8.
Demonstrators call for change at public hearing on Fairfax police practices
By Michelle Basch |
Many demonstrators brought their signs into the hearing, held by the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.
WASHINGTON — Mentally ill Fairfax County Jail inmateNatasha McKenna died a few days after jail deputies shocked her repeatedly with a Taser in February.
Last week’s decision to not file criminal charges in connection with her death, as well as to release disturbing video of what led up to it, prompted protesters to show up at a public hearing on Monday night.
Before the meeting started at Walt Whitman Middle School in Alexandria, a few dozen people stood outside holding signs that read “Justice for Natasha McKenna,” “Film the Police” and “Instead of help + treatment, they gave her abuse + death.”
Although the commission is focused on the Fairfax County Police Department and not the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department, which manages the county jail, numerous people signed up to speak out about McKenna’s death.
“We demand justice for Natasha and for those like her in the detention facility today,” Cayce Utley said.
“This woman was having a psychotic episode. She didn’t know what was happening to her. She had men in white suits groping at her naked body,” said Erika Totten, with Black Lives Matter.
“It was a cruel reminder of how African slaves were treated once upon a time,” said Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture.
Other speakers called for the prosecutor and the deputies involved in the case to be fired.
Well into the hearing, one of the members of the commission, Sal Culosi, stood to speak to the audience.
“You need to know that my son … was killed by (the) Fairfax County Police Department in 2006. They said it was an accident. We’re not going to go into that, but I’m here trying to make the policies better. By and large I agree with everything that’s been said here by all of you with regard to Natasha except for one thing. One thing. This is not a racial issue.”
That led to “boos” from several in the crowd.
Culosi continued, “The officer who killed my son was black. And that has nothing to do with the issue of policy.”
At the same meeting, the commission heard a report from its Use of Force Subcommittee, which is making about 40 recommendations for change. They include asking police patrol officers to wear body cameras and carry Electronic Controlled weapons, such as Tasers, while on duty. The subcommittee also supports a ban on chokeholds as a way of controlling suspects.
The commission is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 8 to vote on recommendations submitted by all five of its subcommittees.
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