Emotions run high at community meeting on recent shootings

Man talking at microphone
Gum Springs resident Jonathan Brownlee speaks during Tuesday evening’s meeting.

Gum Springs residents voiced frustration with the police and county officials during a community meeting Tuesday night held in the wake of three shootings that left six people wounded.

The meeting at the Gum Springs Community Center — just blocks away from where two of last week’s shootings took place — was well-attended and grew heated at times. During an occasionally contentious back-and-forth between the audience and FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler, residents pushed back against the police’s claims that the shootings were gang-related. Others shared their experiences with police profiling, and some demanded the police give more information on the investigation.

Almost right from the outset crowd members registered displeasure with the use of the word “gangs,” asking the police to name the gangs and provide proof they were in fact at fault.

“What gangs?” was shouted multiple times as Roessler spoke early in the meeting.

Jonathan (Jon Jon) Brownlee told the audience that he been a victim of gun violence in the past, but that his interactions with the police had been mostly negative. Brownlee said officers had accused him of being a gang member before, which had been deeply insulting.

“I’m not a gang member,” Brownlee said, noting that he’s lived in Gum Springs for more than 20 years. “There’s going to be no progress if you don’t love the people you’re serving. Show love to the community.”

Roessler reiterated a longstanding department policy of not naming gangs, saying that he’s not in the business of doing marketing for criminals. He also did not back off his belief that gangs were responsible for the violence.

“This is an organized structure of human beings that are bent on killing each other,” Roessler said. “We know that for a fact. They have names, they have a structure and when we make the arrests I will be as transparent as possible to prove that this is gang activity.”

The FCPD is working with other jurisdictions and believe last week’s violence is tied to other incidents in the D.C. area, they said. While there is a lot of evidence in the case, Roessler and Mount Vernon police station commander Brian Ruck said that the police need more help from the community to bring the shooters to justice.

“We have uncovered a lot of evidence but no one is talking to us to tell us to help us bring the suspects … to justice,” Roessler said. “That’s what we need moving forward, more engagement.”

Capt. Brian Ruck, commander of the Mount Vernon police station, speaks at the meeting. At right is FCPD Chief Edwin Roessler.

The meeting was heavily promoted by the police and attended by more than 150 people. Many politicians and Fairfax County officials were on hand, including Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, County Executive Bryan Hill and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who all spoke and took questions from the crowd. Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, Mount Vernon district school board member Karen Corbett Sanders, at-large school board member Karen Keys-Gamarra and FCPS Region 3 Superintendent Nardos King were also in attendance, as were a handful of candidates in November’s election.

No arrests at this point

The three shootings came on consecutive days last week, starting with an incident at a playground on Fordson Court in Gum Springs that left two teenagers wounded. The next day there was a shootout in front of a small commercial strip on Telegraph Road in the Rose Hill area that left three injured, and then another shooting at the Fordson Court playground the following day that injured one man.

No arrests have been made, but two vehicles involved in the Telegraph Road shooting were recovered. That shooting was also captured on security cameras at the MidiEast Studios recording studio, which is one of the businesses located in the commercial strip.

Another shooting took place in the parking lot of the studio back in February, and at Saturday’s meeting many residents said they believe the business should be shut down. Wilfredo Torres, who owns the studio along with his wife, attended the Gum Springs meeting on Tuesday and spoke at length about his interactions with the police — both positive and negative.

Torres said that he has cooperated in the investigation, allowing the police to enter the studio to view the security footage. He also said his security footage from the February shooting helped lead to the arrests of two men in that case.

Torres holding microphone
MidiEast Studios owner Wilfredo Torres speaks during Tuesday’s meeting.

But Torres said he was surprised by the suggestions that his business had any tie to the shooting, and said that he was willing to help out the police despite being racially profiled by the FCPD in the past.

“When this event happened we opened our doors to the police. We gave them eyes that they didn’t have, we gave them video footage,” Torres said, responding to a report that the county is investigation possible code violations with the studio. “To hear rumors that they’re trying to shut us down, it hurts.”

Roessler responded to complaints that the police weren’t revealing enough about what they know so far by saying too much transparency would hurt the police’s case.

“I can’t share that information because it will jeopardize the investigation, and I’ve promised arrests,” Roessler said. “The worst thing I can do is reveal information that we know internally from an intelligence standpoint … that would help us make an arrest.”

Kofi Annan, president of the Fairfax County NAACP, also attended the meeting and said the next few weeks would help determine if the incident pulls the community together or tears it apart. While Annan thanked Bulova and Roessler for meeting with him in person that day, he said the police were not hearing the concerns of the community. Singling out the minority-owned recording studio and using the word “gangs” despite the objections of the community showed insensitivity, Annan said.

“For you to stand in front of a group of mostly white people [on Saturday] and say that you’re going to shut down a business that supports black people, it doesn’t ring well,” Annan said. “I have to say the white and black [racial comparison]. You have to understand to how this is being read in the community.”

Annan also said more police patrols were not the long-term answer to to the recent problems in Gum Springs, and could cause more problems for residents over time. He called on the county to instead provide more support and services for lower-income residents there.

“We’re telling you that we have problems that are not about more policing,” Annan said. “The community is saying we need more resources, we don’t just need additional police officers.”

Some Gum Springs residents said that while they were happy to see so many from the community at the meeting, it was important for them to stay involved on a more consistent basis. A leader of a local Boy Scout troop spoke about the need for more youngsters to join group, and others hoped more people would become involved in the New Gum Springs Civic Association, which has done outreach with the FCPD in the past.

“[The civic association] is there for us. It’s there for the community. And [most people] don’t come to the meetings,” said Lauren Hamm, a civic association member. “You can’t always expect the police to reach out to you. Reach out to them.”

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