Iranian Americans Increasingly at the Center of Systematic Discrimination Across the U.S.

Today we learned that the federal officers who inexplicably gunned down a young Iranian-American man at point blank range will not be held accountable. Bijan Ghaisar’s parents and family have sought answers for over two years and have been stonewalled by their own government. Bijan’s murder is just one part of a larger trend of state-sanctioned violence being carried out by American police forces against primarily black but increasingly also against brown men. For Iranian Americans who looked on as other men of colorincluding Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice—were killed by police officers and thought it would never happen to us, Bijan’s death is a wakeup call.

Iranian Americans are caught in the crosshairs of some of the most urgent national political and social challenges America faces today.  From police violence to family separation owed to draconian immigration policies at home to brutal imperialism abroad, our community has a dutyand a unique opportunityto fight back and protect the values we believe in for ourselves and our fellow Americans.

Today’s despairing announcement came on the heels of another official release concerning a civil servant, Sahar Nowruzzadeh, who was targeted by her bosses at the State Department and ultimately demoted because of her Iranian heritage. This is the same state department that illegally funded IranDisinfoa group that attacked Iranian American journalists, organizations, and human rights activists with taxpayer dollars.

The department’s inspector general released its findings from an investigation into the matter and found conclusively that Brian Hookthe lead official charged with formulating Iran policy under Trump and Pompeo discriminated against Sahar because he believed she was born in Iran. Will there be any accountability for Hook’s actions? Or will he too be let off the hook and become just one more perpetrator not held accountable for his offenses against Iranian Americans? 

As Americans, we entrust authorities with powers on the promise that they will not be abused and if they are, we the people hold the ultimate authority to take that power back. In looking at just the above two examples, Iranian Americans can connect the dots as to a whole host of trends underscoring how the authorities who we have elected into office and paid for with our tax dollars are abusing those powers. State sanctioned violence at home is matched by the eagerness to use state sanctioned violence against powerless populations abroad. 

The targeting of a civil servant based on her perceived national origin is a symptom of the same sickness that has produced a Muslim Ban against all Iranian nationals abroad. The securitization of how police treat black and brown men is part of the same phenomenon that has led us to separate children from their mothers and fathers at the border in the name of national security.

We have a responsibility to grapple with these challenges beyond wringing our hands or lamenting how this impacts our community. We must do something about it in coalition with and support of all communities. Building political power for Iranian Americans should top our community’s list of priorities, particularly for those who see the trends and believe enough is enough. 

Iranian Americans are being targeted, but we also are a community of immense privilege and we owe it not just to ourselves, but also to our compatriots facing similar challenges, to put that privilege to use in service of justice. If we organizepull together our political giving, organize our communities locally and nationally to communicate with our elected officials and hold them accountable, and educate ourselves and the broader public about political engagementIranian Americans can make a major impact in restoring justice and accountability. With 2020 around the corner, we must not simply internalize the outrage of Bijan’s murder or the scandal of the targeting of Iranian American civil servants. We need to fight back. 

NIAC Statement on Reports that Officers Responsible for Fatal Shooting of Iranian-American Will Not Face Charges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Friday, November 15, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 |

Washington DC – Today, news broke that the Justice Department will not seek federal criminal civil rights charges against the two U.S. Park Police officers who fatally shot Iranian-American Bijan Ghaisar two years ago. In response, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement:

“The outrage of the killing of Bijan Ghaisar by two U.S. Park Police officers demands answers and justice. Instead, the U.S. Justice Department dragged its feet, prolonged the agony of Bijan’s family, and ultimately shielded those officers from any charges for killing an unarmed young man. This is a travesty, and our hearts go out to the Ghaisar family, which has been denied justice and accountability after more than two years of mourning.

“Unfortunately, police violence against communities of color is all too common in this country, as is the failure to hold accountable officers of the law who gun down innocent and unarmed people on and off camera. We cannot call our country safe when innocents can be gunned down while their killers continue to wield weaponry behind a badge.

“NIAC joined with IAAB and IABA earlier this year to call for the officers responsible to be held accountable and fired for Bijan’s killing. Today, the Iranian-American community stands in solidarity with the Ghaisar family as it continues to seek justice that was denied by the Department of Justice.”

NIAC, IAAB, and IABA Issue Joint Statement on the Case of Bijan Ghaisar

The following statement was issued jointly by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB), and the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) on developments to the case involving Bijan Ghaisar.

On November 17, 2017, 25 year old Bijan Ghaisar was tragically shot and killed by two U.S. Park Police officers in Virginia. Bijan, who was unarmed, was pursued by the officers following a minor traffic incident and shot nine times in an encounter that should have easily been resolved without deadly force. He died in the hospital ten days later.

Now, after more than 500 days of federal officials dodging accountability, the names of the officers involved—Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya—have finally been identified by court order in the discovery phase of the Ghaisar family’s lawsuit against the U.S. government for excessive use of deadly force. Given the damning video surveillance, we call for accountability, including the immediate firing of the officers involved.

As organizations serving and representing tens of thousands of Iranian Americans, we have been deeply concerned by the lack of accountability from the U.S. Park Police, Department of Justice and FBI surrounding the investigation into the shooting of Bijan. Delayed justice is no justice at all, and tangible steps must be taken to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future at the hands of these two officers who engaged in deadly excessive force. Doing so is an imperative first step to ensure public safety and pursue justice for the Ghaisar family.

While this is a critical step, it would be insufficient without further efforts by the FBI and DOJ to release a full and public report on the shooting, and help facilitate a favorable resolution of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Ghaisar family. We also join a number of officials—including Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA)—in condemning the FBI for failing to answer questions into the 16-month long investigation put forth by former Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.

Refusing to provide transparency into the investigation, and failing to hold the responsible parties to account, greatly risks an erosion in the public’s trust of the justice system, and continues to deny justice to the Ghaisar family. The only acceptable outcome for the investigation into this case is full transparency into the findings, and the immediate firing of the responsible officers.

NIAC Demands Transparency From DOJ in Bijan Ghaisar Police Shooting

This morning, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) sent a letter to United States Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III and United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Jessie K. Liu, urging them to release 911 calls from November 17, 2017, the night 25 year-old unarmed Iranian American Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police officers.

It has been 131 days since Bijan was shot and killed by police, despite being unarmed and posing no imminent threat to the public or officers’ safety. There are still a wide range of unanswered questions surrounding the shooting, and routine public information that is normally released to victims’ families and the public have been shrouded in secrecy in this case. The Ghaisar family, for example, still does not even know the names of the officers that shot and killed their son.

On March 19, 2018, rather than taking a step toward transparency and accountability to restore public trust in law enforcement and local government, the U.S. Department of Justice doubled down on stonewalling the Ghaisar family by lodging formal objections to the release of any 911 calls surrounding the violent killing of Bijan.

As the largest grassroots Iranian-American organization in the United States, NIAC takes seriously our duty to forcefully advocate for and defend the Iranian-American community against civil rights violations, discriminatory policies, and unequal treatment.

Bijan Ghaisar was unarmed, presented no threat, and should have made it home to his family the evening of November 17, 2017. Instead, he was shot three times in the head and once in the wrist at close range by U.S. Park Police.

The Ghaisar family, with the full force of NIAC and the entire Iranian-American community behind them, demand the immediate release of these 911 calls consistent with the transparency and accountability we rightfully expect from local and federal government – because #WeAreBijan.

Bijan Ghaisar Letter

NIAC Calls For Immediate Accountability For Officers Involved In The Fatal Shooting Of Bijan Ghaisar

Contact: Shayan H. Modarres
Phone: (202) 386-6325

Washington, D.C. – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) issued the following statement in response to the release of video footage recorded by Fairfax County Police Department depicting the last moments of Bijan Ghaisar’s life before he was shot to death by officers.

“It is unacceptable that a young man who was the victim of a minor fender bender has been tragically shot and killed by three bullets to the head from police officers’ guns.

“The video released this morning, and what we know so far, certainly seem to indicate that officers repeatedly and aggressively charged towards Bijan Ghaisar’s vehicle looking for a confrontation and shot Bijan three times in the head at close range. The fact that officers did not use every tool at their disposal to de-escalate the situation and minimize the need for use of force exposes not only the glaring deficiency in training, but also what appears to be a wanton and reckless disregard for Bijan’s life. Nothing in the video justifies that this incident should have ended in a fatal shooting.

“This tragic incident comes at a dark time for an Iranian-American community that has been profiled, discriminated against, and targeted by policies and hateful rhetoric from the White House. Through policies like the Muslim Ban, Iranian Americans have been characterized as inherently dangerous and a threat to national security by the White House and other officials. This certainly calls into question whether Bijan Ghaisar was profiled because of his physical appearance and personalized “BIJAN” license plate.

“The Iranian-American community stands in solidarity with other communities of color that have been impacted by unjustified police violence against unarmed citizens. The need for immediate policing reform in the United States is an issue that transcends creed, color, class, or political affiliation.

“Training reforms must include implicit and unconscious biases training so that officers are better equipped to identify threats, and not perceive people of color as greater threats and, therefore, react more aggressively when confronting them. We must have community oversight, and meaningful and sincere reviews of uses of force by law enforcement with swift and severe consequences for officers that violate the law.

“Training reforms must also emphasize de-escalation techniques and tactics to minimize the need for officers to rely on force, and particularly lethal force. Officers must be taught that in circumstances such as this, where someone like Bijan presents no immediate threat to officer or public safety, officers must try to make contact from a safe distance rather than rushing to the vehicle to engage in a violent confrontation. If the circumstances permit, a tactical withdrawal, or temporary retreat, will minimize the need to rely on use of force and offer alternatives to lethal force, such as communication and non-violent tactics.

“Officers must also be trained to use lethal force as a last resort and not a first option. There are a number of non-lethal tools at an officer’s disposal like pepper spray, tasers, and batons.

“If police culture shifted towards these reforms, and others, which emphasize valuing and preserving life, Bijan Ghaisar would likely be alive today. Instead, the victim of a minor fender bender is dead, shot multiple times by police, and a family – indeed an entire community – is left completely devastated.

“NIAC calls on the Fairfax County Police Department, the United States Park Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct a thorough and professional review of all existing policies, institute any and all necessary reforms, and hold accountable officers that acted wrongfully through swift and immediate action.”