(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Activists and lawmakers have been demanding to know who called police on protesters at a legislative town hall that descended into chaos last weekend, and now there is at least a partial answer.
ARLnow.com has learned that Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), the target of the pro-immigrant organizers’ ire, requested a police presence prior to the event.
Lopez and several other state lawmakers were attending a forum hosted by Indivisible Arlington at Central Library last Saturday (May 12), when activists with the group LaColectiVA used the gathering as a chance to press Lopez on his past consulting work for a contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Though the activists asked some heated questions of Lopez, the event remained on track until Arlington County police officers made their presence known, setting off a shouting match. Attendees accused Lopez of asking for officers to intervene in the event, given LaColectiVA’s previous protests of Lopez’s connections with the Immigration Centers of America, which runs an ICE detention center in Central Virginia.
Now, the police who manage protection for state lawmakers — the Virginia Division of Capitol Police — tell ARLnow that Lopez’s office contacted them days in advance of the May 12 meeting to make sure police were on site.
“When a member of the General Assembly raises an issue of possible security concerns in their district, we can and do reach out to the local authorities on their behalf,” Joe Macenka, spokesman for the Capitol Police, wrote in an email. “In this case, Del. Lopez’s office did that. It is up to local law enforcement to respond accordingly.”
Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed that her department heard from the Capitol Police on May 10, two days before the forum was planned, and she said “extra checks were requested for the event.” Savage says library security then called police, though they’d previously been made aware of the forum at Lopez’s request.
Lopez has yet to address the weekend’s events publicly, and an aide to the delegate has not responded to requests for comment.
This news comes as Del. Patrick Hope (D-47) and Arlington Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy, and even organizers with Indivisible Arlington itself, have pressed for answers on how law enforcement officers became involved in the event. Indivisible leaders offered a public apology on Wednesday (May 16) that police were present, lamenting “the negative impact of their presence on meeting participants, especially people of color,” as many of the LaColectiVA activists are Latino.
“These kids were just trying to ask some tough questions, and there is nothing wrong with that,” said Ben Tribbett, a veteran Democratic strategist who attended the meeting. “It is not an acceptable reason to call the police on your constituents.”
Nelson Lopez, an organizer with LaColectiVA, says he suspected that police were alerted about the event ahead of time, given how “instantaneously” police arrived.
His group had spent the last few weeks leading up to the event trying to convince Lopez to attend a public meeting about his past work with the ICE contractor scheduled immediately ahead of the Indivisible forum. Nelson Lopez says his fellow activists only decided to head to the Indivisible event the day of, but he also believes the delegate was well aware that LaColectiVA would be organizing around the issue that day.
“We contacted him so many different ways about meeting on this,” Nelson Lopez said. “But he will not address it.”
The delegate reported on state disclosure forms that the ICE contractor paid him $5,000 in 2014 and $10,000 in 2015 and 2016, but he’s said repeatedly that a nondisclosure agreement bars him from discussing what exactly his work for the group entailed.