Arlington, VA

The Arlington NAACP is decrying an incident in which a Black man was questioned by Arlington County police last week for photographing a house.

The incident happened on Monday, Dec. 21, in the Foxcroft Heights neighborhood, near the Air Force Memorial. A video and an account of what happened was posted on Facebook and first reported by Blue Virginia.

Marlon Crutchfield, a professional photographer who specializes in real estate, was photographing a client’s home when, according to his post, a “nosy neighbor” started to question what he was doing.

“A man came over and asked me if I needed any help, of course I didn’t,” Crutchfield wrote. “I informed the gentleman that I didn’t need any assistance. Honestly — I was offended. Every black person knows what this means… I am retired from the US Army with a Bronze Star. I am also a former Federal Law Enforcement Officer. I’ve taught my kids through the years to be good citizens to be good people in general but it seems as though things change slowly.”

Crutchfield said police started showing up after the encounter, apparently called by another neighbor. He posted a video of the police encounter, during which he declines an officer’s request to hand over identification.

“Have you seen me commit a crime? Has anybody seen me commit a crime?” he asks.

The homeowner with whom he was working can be heard questioning why police were called and calling the situation “very racist.” Eventually the officers leave as Crutchfield goes back inside the home.

“Have a great day, sir,” one of the officers says.

“NEVER have I been so embarrassed. It was hurtful and demeaning in so many ways,” Crutchfield later recounted on Facebook. “It could’ve gotten a lot worse… we’ve seen this many times as of late. It’s time for change.”

Photography is not a crime, though police in Arlington frequently respond to calls about “suspicious” people seen photographing buildings in various parts of the county. The Arlington branch of the NAACP said there’s no reason why multiple police vehicles would need to respond to such a “nonsensical call,” as happened last week.

“We are looking into this incident,” the local NAACP branch said in a press release. “We spoke with the citizen who recorded the video and the Acting Chief of Police. Additionally, we have shared the public video with selected officials of the Arlington County Board, the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, three elected leaders of the Virginia General Assembly representing Arlington County, and the County Manager.”

“We have also issued a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request for all documents and police recordings related to this incident,” the organization added.

Additionally, NAACP Branch President Julius Spain, Sr. and First Vice President Kent Carter issued a statement about the incident, saying that “it is a time to stop dispatching police to calls like these.”

“It is not a crime to be Black,” Spain and Carter say. The full statement is below.

In Arlington, we can get complacent and think this could never happen here. But it did. Here in Arlington a Black man, hired to create memorable holiday photos in a client’s home, is first accosted in his car by a white neighbor questioning his presence in their neighborhood. Then, when up to five police cruisers respond to a nonsensical call to police to investigate, the Black man is questioned by police, who refuse to accept his word about his lawful activities, and instead demand his identification. All of this occurred while he stood on the porch of the home where he was a guest, with the homeowner supporting him and asking police to leave her property.

This must stop. It is not a crime to be Black, it is not a crime to be on any street in Arlington, and it is certainly not a crime to be an invited guest in another’s home. Instead of holiday memories captured by a gifted professional photographer, the memories created here are those of anger, embarrassment, humiliation, silently practiced neighborhood racism and the sting of racial profiling. While police showed restraint and eventually de-escalated their demands, it is all too easy to imagine how this could have been yet another tragic outcome for a person of color. It is a time to stop dispatching police to calls like these, where police become tools for anonymized racial animus. It is deeply concerning and appalling that Black men and women are continually scrutinized when they are someplace, they have every right to be at.

This incident and the initial call to police is an example of the everyday racism and bias which continues to plague our communities. Arlington residents must stop calling law enforcement officials without evidence of wrongdoing whenever an unrecognized person of color is in a neighborhood. This practice is racist, diverts county resources, wastes taxpayer dollars, puts police and citizens at risk and erodes the trust between Arlingtonians and the county. At a minimum, an apology is owed to the victim and homeowner, and a full review conducted to identify the obvious flaws in policies, training and dispatch that allowed this police over-response to occur.  We should not be a county where one must produce identification or have your privacy violated simply because that is protocol. We implore law enforcement officials to thoroughly investigate all facts surrounding this incident and to consider if charges of filing a false police report are warranted. Creating accountability is one way to help begin to restore confidence in federal, state, and local law enforcement and thus restore the trust and integrity necessary to be effective, and to keep all of us safer.

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