Organizers with the group Indivisible Arlington are apologizing for how they handled a town hall meeting that devolved into a shouting match after pro-immigrant activists asked some tough questions of Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49).
The grassroots group convened a public forum at Arlington’s Central Library last Saturday (May 13) featuring several state lawmakers, but Indivisible organizers felt compelled to call it off earlier than expected, as activists with the group LaColectiVa aggressively pressed Lopez on his past consulting work for a private company that contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In a new statement today (Wednesday), Indivisible leaders defended the decision to end the meeting, as they felt participants were “unable to maintain a constructive dialogue.” However, they expressed regret about the presence of both library security and county police at the meeting, particularly after an Arlington police officer arrived at the meeting and set off a new round of protests from the LaColectiVA activists.
“We recognize the negative impact of their presence on meeting participants, especially people of color,” Indivisible organizers wrote. “We did not request the presence of Arlington law enforcement.”
The group is now urging meeting attendees to reach out to Indivisible to discuss “how we can best move forward together.”
Our #Indivisible Arlington statement about the May 12th State Issues Forum at the #ArlingtonVA Central Library. We want to listen to concerns from anyone about what happened and hear how we can best move forward together. Please contact us at [email protected] pic.twitter.com/aHTsq29dI7
— IndivisibleArlington (@IndivisibleArl) May 16, 2018
Some people who attended the meeting believe Lopez is the one who needs to take the lead on smoothing things over, given the way he handled the situation.
“It’s very disheartening, because he’s not apologizing or discussing what happened there,” Nelson Lopez, an organizer with LaColectiVA, told ARLnow. “We just want to have a dialogue about this issue, and he’s consistently refused to do so.”
An aide to the delegate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nelson Lopez and other meeting attendees say they want to know whether or not Del. Lopez had anything to do with police officers heading to the meeting.
People at the gathering say LaColectiVA’s activists weren’t being overly disruptive when they first arrived, with one member of the group asking Lopez about his past work for the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia. Lopez reported on state disclosure forms that the group paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016, and LaColectiVA has spent the last few months organizing protests around the issue.
A video of the forum posted on Facebook shows that Lopez and some activists briefly argued — Lopez insisted that a nondisclosure agreement bars him from discussing his past consulting work, and he insisted that work is not part of his “public life” in the General Assembly — but the meeting soon returned to normalcy.
Roughly 15 minutes later, a county police officer entered the room, setting off loud protests from members of LaColectiVA.
“The police were preemptively called, and that was what caused the disturbance in the first place,” said Ben Tribbett, a veteran Democratic strategist who attended the meeting. “The kids were petrified when the cops got there.”
Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says it was library staff who called the department about the arrival of the LaColectiVA protesters. But Tribbett and Nelson Lopez say they are interested in finding out if anyone asked the library staff to contact authorities, a call echoed by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) and Arlington Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy on Twitter Wednesday.
I greatly appreciate @IndivisibleArl strong statement. I’d like to better understand the sequence of events that led to the calling of law enforcement, which was completely unwarranted and unnecessary. https://t.co/IsLLZu9JCs
— Patrick Hope (@HopeforVirginia) May 16, 2018
As your constituent, I would like to know @Lopez4VA what actually happened, who called the police on whom and why.
— Ingrid Morroy (@imorroy) May 16, 2018
Attendees are also urging Del. Alfonso Lopez to address an allegation made by another LaColectiVA organizer, Irma Corrado, who says Lopez threatened her as the meeting broke up.
She says Lopez told her “I know where you work, and my friend is a board member,” which she took as a threat that he’d get her fired. She declined to publicly reveal where she works.
Most of all, Nelson Lopez hopes the delegate takes this whole episode as an example of just how frustrated people are over his refusals to answer questions about his past ties to the ICE contractor.
“We just want to have a town hall, a public forum about this, so he can understand it’s not just some fringe group that has these feelings,” Lopez said. “We’re not trying to get rid of him, we’re trying to have a dialogue.”
Photo via Facebook