Protesters speak out about their concerns with police control in Northern Virginia. (AFRO Photo/Linda Poulson)
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.