Fairfax Co. leaders focus united effort to prevent, counter hate

WASHINGTON — Fairfax County officials and other leaders reaffirmed the county’s stance against hate speech, bias and hate crimes on Sunday.

“If it is a crime, we will prosecute it,” Fairfax County police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said.

But if it isn’t deemed a crime, he added, “You are still a victim of someone’s hate. We will try our best and heal the community. And the way we do that is outreach.”

“If it is a crime, we will prosecute it,” Fairfax County police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. said. (WTOP/Liz Anderson)

Roessler told a diverse audience that all incidents of hate in the county are unacceptable. Sunday afternoon’s meeting also highlighted what agencies at all levels are doing to prevent and respond to such incidents.

Faith leaders and community members gathered with officials at Northern Virginia Community College’s Annandale campus to address these issues. Community engagement was a common thread throughout each presentation and panel session.

In public schools, the district works to prevent bullying and other hateful incidents. Dr. Mary Ann Panarelli, director of intervention and prevention services with Fairfax County Public Schools, told the audience, “We can discipline a kid, we can suspend them and people say ‘see, the school did something.’ But in reality, when a kid is suspended for this type of behavior, they just get angry.”

To help heal fissures, restorative justice meetings are scheduled. These structured group encounters are designed to help students see how their actions affected others.

“Unlike in discipline — where we say what were the rules broken, who broke the rules and what’s the consequence — in a restorative conference, we say what was the harm done? Who’s responsible for the harm and how can we repair that harm?” Panarelli said.

Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova also reaffirmed the county’s commitment to its rich diversity, even while acknowledging that some may feel threatened by change and differences.

“I try to understand where they’re coming from,” Bulova told WTOP. “I think it’s important to understand that and help bring people along and to try to guard against being offended and, instead, try to help people understand the value of what we have and why.”

Bulova announced her plans to move a resolution at the next board meeting on April 4. She read some of the document’s wording, which upholds Fairfax County’s commitment to inclusion, dedication to community policing, and maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for all students in its public schools.

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