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The police killed my son. Why can’t they answer my questions?

November 9, 2005

By Brook Hailu Beshah

Arlington County and Fairfax police say that Hailu robbed a BB&T bank branch on Old Dominion Drive in McLean after he left home that morning. They say he then drove across the county line into Arlington, crashed his car and fled on foot. Ultimately, three Fairfax officers who pursued him fired some 20 times according to a witness quoted by NBC Washington. At 10:30 p.m., many hours after the shooting, the police finally came to our home to break the news to us that Hailu was dead. It was originally reported that Hailu exchanged gunfire with the police, but later we were told he was shot because he pointed a toy gun at them.On the morning of Dec. 10, 2008, I said goodbye to my 19-year-old son, Hailu Brook, and left for work. It was the last time I would see him alive. The pain of what transpired that day will remain with me and my family until we die. But it has been made so much worse by the Fairfax County authorities’ refusal to provide answers to our questions.

And we are expected to take their word for all of this and go away. But we cannot do that. There is still so much that does not make sense to us. We owe it to our son to seek the truth.

The area where all of this occurred is familiar to us — as it was to Hailu. He drove past this bank on his way to Yorktown High School every day, and we believe that is exactly what he was doing on that day, as well. He was a very sociable and pleasant young man; his backpack was full of textbooks and notebooks. It was simply not in Hailu’s personality to carry out such a crime.

If Hailu had not been killed by the police, he would have had the right to a trial, during which the police would have presented their evidence against him. This is the right and proper thing. But his death has prevented this. Because he was killed by the police, all we have been given is a short letter stating that the shooting was justified. Why should the question of his guilt be of any less importance now?

Here are some of the questions we have:

  • The internal investigation: Why won’t the police share their report? No doubt it was comprehensive. A simple statement saying “the action is justified” without detailed evidence is an insult to our intelligence.
  • Video recordings: It is routine police procedure to have video equipment in their cars. It was reported that the police were in hot pursuit of my son. Therefore, they may have video footage. Do they? If not, why not?
  • Closed-circuit bank videotape: Is there a tape from BB&T? Allow us to view it, and many of our questions can be answered. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
  • The level of force: Why were so many shots fired? And why was he struck, as his autopsy indicated, in the back?

We have anxiously pursued this matter for almost two years now. Arlington detectives have had the decency to sit down with us, but it is Fairfax that has most of the information we seek. Despite our respectful requests, the Fairfax authorities have not met with us, for reasons we don’t understand. As the months have passed, our doubts and suspicions have only increased. What is it that they don’t want us to know?

Last week, Hailu would have turned 21. As parents, we need to know how his life ended, and we want closure. If events transpired as the police say they did, we will move on with our lives.

We are an ordinary, law-abiding family. We pay our taxes. It is not our intention to pick a fight with a strong and rich county such as Fairfax. But such silence does not go hand in hand with the responsibility and accountability of public officials. We have a right to know what happened.

The writer is a former deputy Ethio­pian ambassador to the United States. He lives in Fairlawn, Ohio.

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