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When it was founded, the Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group was an uplifting place where local residents could ask for help, share information, and connect with one another.

Now, as with just about any online forum of a certain size, the events of 2020 have darkened the skies over the formerly sunny space.

Contentious arguments break out, public shaming is a common occurrence, and at least one member had her employer contacted by someone upset at a post.

Granted, there are still plenty of heartwarming, helpful and innocuous posts. In fact, there are more posts than most people can keep track of — everything from school opening discussions to questions about car dealerships. But the darker side of online forums has nonetheless crept in.

“I think that there has been an increase in divisiveness,” conceded Kellen MacBeth, co-founder of the group, which now has more than 11,000 members. “It is likely driven by several factors — the increased size of the group and that the ‘coming together’ attitude that characterized March and much of April has been wearing off.”

“When the pandemic first hit, people were scared, searching for answers, and ready to help each other survive,” MacBeth continued. “Now that it’s become a somewhat ‘regular’ threat, people have settled back into routines less focused on getting through a crisis as a community and more so just trying to live life in this new normal. We also saw that as the size of the group increased, you inevitably get trolls and other people who join and don’t share the group’s values.”

The divisiveness isn’t just about the group’s size and the pandemic’s progression, though. It’s also about the many unknowns still surrounding COVID-19, leading to a cacophony of competing warnings and indignations, as well as the politicization of the virus. And it’s about those other big 2020 news stories: the Black Lives Matter movement and mass protests, and a heated presidential election.

Even though Arlington is a progressive stronghold, with social justice signs common even in the yards of the county’s more conservative neighborhoods, BLM-related posts in particular seem to frequently lead to online confrontation.

Last week Arlington Magazine published an essay by local resident Olamide Goke-Pariola, who recounted the vitriol she faced while “talking about racial justice and challenging my mostly white neighbors to think critically about their role in white supremacy” in the group.

“They consistently dismissed my lived experience,” she wrote. “One neighbor even told me my comments were ‘noise.'”

The “Arlington Neighbors” group is not alone in turning into a dumpster fire at times, however.

Things got so bad at the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society neighborhood Facebook group, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, that its moderators shut it down for good. Before it closed, the group hosted battle royales on posts about social justice, with online shouting matches that were a digital counterpart to the battle over signs on a bridge playing out in the physical world nearby.

Even the usually chipper Mothers of North Arlington email listserv started to see moms turning on one another. The group faced accusations that it was dismissive of calls for social justice during the George Floyd protests and that it deleted a Black woman’s Facebook post on the subject.

ARLnow has seen its own share of added divisiveness. A half dozen commenters have been permanently banned for a pattern of racist comments over the past couple of months. Others have been placed on comment timeouts for engaging in extended flame wars. And there has been an uptick in criticism of our articles, with commenters on the site and Facebook questioning our coronavirus reporting and savaging our reporting about multiple COVID-19 cases at a private swim club.

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Most people arrested in Arlington are Black and most do not reside in Arlington.

That’s according to 2019 arrest data shared by the Arlington County Police Department, at the request of ARLnow and a local community group. Its release follows calls for police reform and nationwide protests over the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.

ACPD officers arrested 3,613 people in 2019, according to the data, and just over half were Black. Only 35.8% of those arrested live in Arlington.

The data provided says 45% of arrestees were white, but that includes those most of the 19.6% of arrestees identified as Latino. (Latino is considered an ethnicity while Black, white, Asian/Pacific Islander and American Indian/Alaskan Native are classified as races in the ACPD data.)

According to the latest Census estimates, 61.4% of Arlington’s population is non-Hispanic white, 15.6% is Hispanic/Latino, 11.1% is Asian/Pacific Islander, 9.7% is Black, just under 3.6% is multiracial and 0.6% is Indigenous.

More on the ACPD arrest data, from a report that accompanied it:

Of the 3,613 arrestees, 1,830 were identified as Black (50.7%) and 1,625 (45.0%) were identified as White. Those identifying as Asian/Pacific Islanders 118 arrests (3.3%), American Indian/Alaskan Native 3 arrests (0.1%) and Other/Unknown/Blank Race 37 arrests (1.0%) made up the remainder. Ethnicity of persons are recorded separately from race. Arrestees identified as Hispanic/Latino ethnicity accounted for 708 arrests, 19.6% of total arrests.

Most arrestees (64.2%) did not identify Arlington as their residence. There was some disparity in the Arlington-resident status of arrestees across racial groups. American Indian/Alaskan Natives individuals (66.7%) were the most likely to be an Arlington resident, then Asian individual arrestees (52.5%), followed by White individuals (43.8%), then Black individuals (27.2%). Unknown race individuals were listed as Arlington residents 56.8% of the time. […]

Most arrestees were either 18-25 years old (26.7%) or 26-35 years old (31.4%). The remaining arrestee age cohorts of 36-45 (16.0%) , 46-55 (10.0%), 12-17 (8.3%) and 56+ years old (7.5%) combined for fewer than 50% of total arrestees. When age cohorts were grouped by race, they tended to closely resemble overall racial arrest distribution, with the exception of juvenile arrests. Of total arrested individuals ages 12-17, 61.0% were Black individuals and 36.7% were White individuals, compared to 50.7% and 45.0% across all ages

In a recent Williamsburg Yorktown Daily article about the disproportionate number of Black arrestees in that part of Virginia, a director of the state chapter of the ACLU quotes an unnamed former Arlington commonwealth’s attorney in explaining the county’s disproportionate arrest statistics as largely a function of the residency of those arrested.

Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia… said the previous commonwealth’s attorney in Arlington County gave a similar explanation when Glass noticed 60 percent of the arrests were black people even though they made up around 10 percent of the population.

“I was looking into if there was any validity why the jail in Arlington County had such a disparate [number] of Black people in it,” Glass said.

“It’s because we arrest a lot of people in D.C.,” Glass said was what the former commonwealth’s attorney told her.

The ACPD report similarly suggests that when residency is separated out, the racial disparities are not as stark. However, even among Arlington residents, the proportion of Black arrestees is still about four times higher than that of the population.

“A comparison of Arlington arrest data to Arlington demographic data is problematic because Arlington-residents only made up 35.8% of ACPD arrests in 2019,” the report says. “If we only examine Arlington-resident arrests – 55% were White individuals, 38.5% were Black individuals, 4.8% were identified as Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.6% were identified as Other/Unknown/Blank race, and 0.2% were American Indian/Alaskan Native individuals.”

Meanwhile, Arlington officers wrote 38,766 non-parking citations in 2019 and the demographics of those receiving citations is more in line with the county’s population.

“Total traffic citations and warnings given to Arlington residents (28.5% of total citations/warnings) closely resemble the racial demography of Arlington,” the ACPD report says. “76.2% of traffic summons/warnings were issued to White residents, 14.2% to Black residents, 5.9% to Asian residents, 3.6% to Other/Unknown residents, and 0.1% to American Indian/Alaskan Native residents.”

The report adds that white and non-white drivers were equally likely to get off on just a warning during a traffic stop.

“Residents were slightly more likely to get a Traffic VUS Warning citation (23.0%) than non-residents (20.4%),” the report said. “Individuals identified as White and individuals identified as non-White received warning citations at virtually the same rate – 21.1% for drivers identified as White, 21.2% for drivers identified as non-White.”

Equity, particularly racial equity, was identified as a key 2020 priority for Arlington County government at the beginning of the year.

Local criminal justice reform advocates have called for Arlington Police Chief M. Jay Farr, who is retiring at the end of the year, to be replaced by a new chief “who is committed to justice system transformation, eliminating bias, and implementing new methods of policing.”

Farr wrote a letter to the Arlington community to accompany the release of the arrest data. The full letter is below.

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(Updated at 11:45 p.m.) More than 500 people have signed a petition calling for the S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395 to be renamed “Black Lives Matter Bridge.”

The petition was created amid dueling efforts to place and remove the letters “BLM” on the bridge’s chain link fence, a thus far nonviolent dispute that has resulted in multiple calls to Arlington County police.

The BLM art first appeared about a month ago, during nationwide protests over the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.

Two weeks ago, the red cups used to form the letters were removed, promping locals to replace them with new cups and to write new chalk slogans. Among them: “no justice, no peace” and “take it down and we’ll do it again.”

Melissa Schwaber, who sent photos of the cups being replaced, described those doing so as “Fairlington moms and their kids.”

The cups were later removed again, which led to Black Lives Matters supporters creating a heart and spelling out BLM with harder-to-remove ribbons. That won Twitter praise from Arlington County Board Chair and Fairlington resident Libby Garvey. The next day, however, someone spray-painted “TRUMP 2020” under the letters.

The spray paint was in turn sprayed over later that morning, and “BLACK LIVES MATTER” written in chalk over it. Then, more spray paint appeared.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, July 1, a local resident posted photos of an older man and a younger man — wearing a motorcycle helmet and a Liberty University shirt — who she accused of vandalizing the bridge and the lettering.

On Friday, a tipster said the “BLM vs. MAGA battle” was continuing to escalate.

“Now there are people putting up conspiracy theory banners on the bridge and people camped out on the bridge with large dogs,” the tipster said. The banners included a photo of Hillary Clinton under the words “WANTED 4 Crimes Against Humanity.”

Later that day, there were more skirmishes.

“I was driving on the Fairlington Bridge an hour or so ago and saw a man arguing with several white women near the BLM signs,” said another tipster. “He was waving his arms in one woman’s face. About 15 minutes ago, on my way home, I saw that the Arlington PD (about 3 cars) had detained the man at the gas station in Shirlington.”

An Arlington County police spokeswoman tells ARLnow that officers have responded to the bridge several times.

“ACPD has responded to multiple reports of disputes in the area of the S. Abingdon Street bridge regarding the posting and removal of signage,” said Kirby Clark. She said that “no charges have been filed related to any incidents involving the signs,” but one incident is under investigation.

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(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) Someone defaced a sign promoting racial justice, placed by a church near Clarendon.

The vandalism happened overnight in front of the Clarendon United Methodist Church (606 N. Irving Street).

A photo sent to ARLnow (above) shows the words “It’s OK to be white” scrawled in block letters on the second of a pair of banners. The banners are signed by parishioners and declare: “Clarendon United Methodist Church is committed to fighting against systemic racial injustice. I will be part of the solution.”

The church tells ARLnow that it was able to successfully remove the graffiti this morning.

“We lament that anyone would choose to deface our sign but we are glad that they have given us further opportunity to affirm our stand against systemic racial injustice and our commitment to be a part of the solution,” a church employee said via email. “We restored the sign to its original intended message this morning.”

The church’s pastor, Rev. Tracy McNeil Wines, also released the following statement.

The murders of George Floyd and countless other Black men, women, and children have further brought to light a long history that bears the unmistakable stains of exclusion, oppression, and violence. We are called by conscience and by God to rise up and stand with those whose pain is etched onto the heart of our nation. We recognize the significant disparities in opportunity for all people of color in education, housing, health, and employment, and in restricted access to security and justice. As people of faith in Jesus Christ, it is essential that we act to dismantle racism.

At Clarendon United Methodist Church, we are committed to the fight against systemic racial injustice. We acknowledge that racism is a sin that works in direct opposition to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we join in the call to resist its powerful influence. Together we yearn for a world that reflects God’s will for just treatment and full inclusion of all persons. We resolve to resist evil, injustice and oppression, and so we cannot rest until the work of dismantling racism is done. Courage and conviction are required in the fight, and we pray that God’s Spirit may empower us with grace equal to the task.

We must take both communal and individual responsibility for justice. Change ultimately begins with transformed hearts. Therefore, we commit to opening our hearts to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. Deep repentance is required. We will seek to educate ourselves and others — to discern the breadth of racism’s impact, to see and acknowledge its effects, and to uncover its influence in our own lives and in our shared life together. We will follow equal employment practices, and intentionally increase opportunities for the voices of Black people and all people of color to be heard in the life and leadership of our church. We will work to tear down the entrenched racial and economic divide that is present in Arlington County and beyond, dedicating resources to aim at both the effects and the root causes of injustice. We affirm that this effort must be an ongoing commitment.

None of us can move forward if one of us is left behind.

This is the second such vandalism of a racial justice sign on church property in as many weeks in Arlington. The “Black” in “Black Lives Matter” was cut out of a sign in front of Rock Spring Congregational church last week. In D.C., meanwhile, a mural “lifting up the names and legacies of Dorothy Day and MLK Jr.” in front of a church was found ripped down this morning.

Photo (top) courtesy anonymous, (bottom) courtesy Clarendon United Methodist Church

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Morning Notes

March Planned Tonight in Crystal City — “This Tuesday (6/30) we will be gathering in Crystal City Courtyard Green to march to Pentagon City in defense of Black womxn.” [Twitter]

Petition for APS to Require Masks — “To maximize the chances of success for Arlington Public Schools (Virginia) hybrid return to school model we urge the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán to make face coverings compulsory for both students and teachers during the days they are at school for in-person learning. Those who object to wearing masks can always choose the distance-learning option.” [Change.org]

Local Church to Feed Thousands — “On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) in south Arlington is working with José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) to feed families in need of food assistance. World Central Kitchen is providing 3,500 meals to OLQP for distribution to the community. Meals will be offered to take home in conjunction with pre-packed food the OLQP food pantry distributes every Wednesday morning. This is the second time WCK will be providing meals to OLQP during the pandemic.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]

Catholic Churches Enter ‘Phase 3’ — “All 70 parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington will move into phase three of Virginia’s reopening plan on Wednesday. Officials announced Monday that each parish is ‘able, but not mandated, to celebrate public Mass with capacity restrictions lifted’ beginning on July 1.” [Fox 5]

County Adjusts Committee Meeting Rules — “After facing a rebellion from members and chairs of advisory commissions, the Arlington County Board has revised rules for holding meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the two biggest changes from the original plans: Commission chairs (apparently) will no longer have to seek county-staff permission to hold meetings. Advisory-group meetings will be allowed in-person or in a hybrid format, in addition to the previously announced “virtual”-only arrangement.” [InsideNova]

New Construction Contract for VHC Inked — “Skanska USA has inked more work with Virginia Hospital Center as the Arlington hospital soldiers on with its $250 million expansion project. The construction company said Monday it signed a contract worth $96 million for site work for the new outpatient pavilion and parking garage at the hospital. That’s on top of a $37 million contract with VHC it grabbed late last year.” [Washington Business Journal]

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‘BLM’ on Fairlington Bridge Restored — Residents of the Fairlington area used ties to restore a Black Lives Matters message on the bridge over I-395 over the weekend. The letters “BLM” had previously been placed on the bridge’s fence but later removed by an unknown party. Also this weekend, below the BLM letters someone scrawled “Trump 2020,” but that was later covered and “Black Lives Matter” written over it in chalk. [Twitter]

ACPD Details De-Escalation Training — “In response to community questions, ACPD has created this fact sheet highlighting how we train officers to de-escalate incidents and safely resolve situations.” [Twitter]

Update to Jim Pebley Obit — Per an email from former county treasurer Frank O’Leary: “You will be pleased to hear that, due to the actions of former commanders of our County’s namesake ship, it appears that Commander Pebley’s ashes will be spread at sea by the USS ARLINGTON. This is a singular honor and reflects the high respect the Navy feels for Jim. Nothing less than he deserves. There is an old adage, ‘The Navy takes care of its own.’ Perhaps, the same can be said of Arlington.”

Candidates on the Arts — “Arlington County voters will go to the polls on July 7 to determine who will fill the County Board seat of the late Erik Gutshall. In order to help voters understand each candidate’s stand on the importance of arts and culture in the County, Embracing Arlington Arts sent out a questionnaire for the three candidates to complete covering several issues pertaining to the arts in Arlington.” [Press Release, Embracing Arlington Arts]

TTT Now Serving Unlimited Weekend Brunch — “There’s a new all-you-can eat brunch in town. TTT in Clarendon, which stands for Tacos, Tortas and Tequila, has joined its Street Guys Hospitality brethren, including beloved Ambar, in offering unlimited eats on weekend mornings.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Reminder: Metro Stations Back Open — “Metro plans to reopen the Clarendon and Virginia Square Metro stations in Arlington, starting Sunday.” [ARLnow]

Nearby: Fairfax Teachers Revolt — “A day after one of the nation’s largest school systems announced its proposal for fall learning, teachers within Fairfax County Public Schools rose in revolt and refused to teach in-person, as the plan demands, until officials revise their strategy.” [Washington Post]

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(Updated at 4:q0 p.m.) After weeks of protests in Arlington and around the world, the association that represents Arlington police officers is weighing in on calls for police reform.

While arguing that ACPD is one of the most educated and well-trained police forces around, the association says that some changes may make sense. Defunding the department, however, could result in lower-quality policing, they say.

“Our officers in Arlington County are well-educated, highly trained, thoughtful men and women,” Arlington Coalition of Police President Scott Wanek said in an interview with ARLnow last week. “They’ve been delivering high-quality police services to the Arlington community for decades.”

As police departments around the country are scrutinized for excessive use of force, and as outrage over police killings boils over, the message from the association is: ACPD is different.

In Arlington, entry-level officers with no prior police or military experience are required to have completed 60 semester hours at an accredited college or university. Most officers have bachelor degrees and many have post-graduate degrees, according to Wanek.

That level of education, and the extensive training that Arlington officers receive, set the department apart.

“At every stop in [field officer training] de-escalation is taught. We have implicit bias training. We teach exhaustive conflict communications training, to include 75% of our officers are certified in our [Crisis Intervention Team] program… for mental health crisis situations,” said Wanek. “A lot of training goes in to our officers.”

Out of about 118,000 police-citizen interactions in 2019, Wanek said, there were 67 uses of force.

“Our goal is to do what we can to reduce it even further, that’s always a worthwhile endeavor,” he said, “especially since in about 40% of the cases our officers sustain injuries in interactions where they’re required to use force.”

Asked about a rising rate of complaints about ACPD officers in 2019, Wanek said some of that is attributable to changes in the way such data is recorded. He pointed out that most of the complaints were generated within the department.

“We don’t just stand idly by,” said Wanek. “That’s not in our culture.”

As for the now-infamous deployment of riot-clad ACPD officers near the White House — the squad was removed after being ordered to clear peaceful protesters away from a presidential photo op — Wanek defended the officers involved.

“In retrospect, it’s unfortunate that we were put in that position,” he said. The officers “behaved well, didn’t violate any policy, procedure, or laws. We certainly didn’t appreciate the optics we got, and we’re looking to move forward, collaborate with the community, and be a voice in the discussion of how we’re going to change law enforcement and the criminal justice system.”

“The residents of Arlington have a right and a responsibility to decide how they’re policed,” Wanek continued. “That’s where the faith in our badges come from. We can’t effectively enforce the laws of the Commonwealth if the community doesn’t believe in us.”

In terms of proposed reforms, Arlington officers are “clearly in support of any reasonable idea that leads to reduced use of force and officer injuries,” according to Wanek. That includes the forthcoming use of body cameras.

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For the second time, someone has vandalized a Black Lives Matter sign at Rock Spring Congregational church in North Arlington.

Sometime between last night and noon today, someone cut out the word “Black” in the sign at the corner of Rock Spring Road and Little Falls Road.

Someone did the same thing to a Black Lives Matter sign on the church lawn in 2015.

“I no idea who’s doing it,” Rev. Dr. Kathryn Dwyer told ARLnow Tuesday afternoon. Dwyer, the church’s senior pastor, said there are no video cameras that might have captured the incident. She has filed a police report, after initially learning about the vandalized sign from a neighbor.

Dwyer said the church is ordering two new signs as a replacement, and plans to place them higher, on the church building itself.  A community member, meanwhile, has offered to try to fix the existing sign.

“I think that the vandalism demonstrates that we clearly have an issue, even here in Arlington, Virginia,” Dwyer said. Cutting out the word Black is “sort of like saying ‘all lives matter,'” she said.

“When I explain this to my congregation, I’ve explained how if your child asks if they love them, responding ‘honey I love all children’ is not satisfying,” Dwyer said. “We’re at a point in time in our country where people of color are being so oppressed it’s the job of all of us to assure them that they’re loved and they matter.”

Tomorrow the church will be holding the first of a six-week virtual course over Zoom entitled “Challenging White Supremacy: Becoming Anti-Racist.” All 100 spots sold out within 4-5 days, Dwyer noted.

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(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) On Friday, Arlington County workers — dispatched after a resident complained — power washed away a girl’s Black Lives Matter chalk art from in front of her Boulevard Manor home. After an uproar, the county later apologized.

A memo from County Manager Mark Schwartz, sent to county employees on Saturday and obtained by ARLnow, shows some of the internal soul searching that followed the incident.

The memo says that Schwartz first heard about what happened due to “an inquiry from the press” — ARLnow first asked the county for comment around 10:30 a.m. He learned that the sequence of events started when “a resident complaint about ‘graffiti.'” Then he saw the photos of county employees erasing quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among other phrases and drawings.

“A series of flowers, hearts, and quotations focusing on understanding and the sanctity of Black lives had been removed by 3 county employees — all 3 are Black,” Schwartz wrote. “What was first described as graffiti removal became obviously something very different. My heart sank. How could this have happened? On Juneteenth of all days? I was sick.”

Schwartz says he asked himself a series of questions, including how those involved in the incident were doing and “In the time of pandemic, why are our limited resources being used to remove chalk from the street?”

He concluded that the employees and family involved, as well as county taxpayers, are all owed apologies. He personally delivered the apology to the workers. Among those to reach out to the family were Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey and Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Director Greg Emanuel.

Schwartz ruminated on how the incident could have taken place despite the county’s focus on equity. He focused both on how the employees involved did not feel empowered to question their orders, and how the county has created a complaint-based system of resident services.

“Calling the ‘authorities’ is the wrong way to address our concerns as neighbors and community members,” Schwartz wrote. “This should be reserved for cases where our safety is at risk.”

The workers involved were not empowered “to make a judgment better than stipulated by the letter of the policy,” the county manager wrote. “The way we currently operate, it is too hard for employees to question what they are asked to do under a policy that is blind to feelings, nuance and the world we live in.”

Other notable questions raised by Schwartz in the memo include:

  • “Was this possibly the worst example of how we ignore equity in doing our work?”
  • “[Does] our complaint driven enforcement efforts lead us to address concerns (regardless of how serious they are) by some residents for any problem that frustrates them, while larger problems that affect our residents go unaddressed?”
  • “[Are we] intentional about reaching impacted residents during public engagement processes, or only those who show up regularly?”

In the memo, Schwartz notes that the county will soon be hiring a Chief Equity and Diversity Officer, who will report directly to the county manager.

“This will take some time, but it is an overdue step,” he said.

The full memo is below.

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Morning Notes

D.C. Now More Expensive Than Arlington — “D.C. has bumped Arlington County, Virginia, from the top of the most-expensive area jurisdictions by county for median home-selling prices — at least for the month of May. Long & Foster reports the median price of a home that sold in the District in May was $656,000, 10% more than May of last year. The median price of a home that sold in Arlington County was $646,000, up 4%.” [WTOP]

Lower Census Response Rate Than 2010 — “In 2010, 74% of Arlington households filled out their Census form and returned it by mail, which was the only option at the time. In 2020, despite being able to fill out the Census online, by phone and by mail, Arlington’s self-response rate is hovering at just over 70%.” [Arlington County]

Missing: BLM Banner — Someone took a Black Lives Matter banner that had been hanging on a pedestrian bridge over Route 50, and its creator wants it back. [Twitter]

JBG Wants to Improve VRE Station Plan — “JBG Smith Properties could soon play a key role in a second major transportation improvement project in Crystal City, performing design work to beef up plans for a new Virginia Railway Express station there. The developer is advancing a plan to manage the construction of a second entrance for the nearby Crystal City Metro station, and this work on the VRE designs would be closely tied to that effort.” [Washington Business Journal]

Another Unique Feat for Wardian — Arlington ultramarathon runner Michael Wardian ran 62.3 miles to every District Taco in the D.C. area, eating tacos along the way. [Instagram]

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Arlington County is apologizing for an “unfortunate situation” — ordering three Black employees to remove a girl’s Black Lives Matter chalk art from in front of her home on Juneteenth.

A neighbor complained about the chalk creations, which included quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, leading to the county response. Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services crews will remove any such markings, regardless of the message, upon receiving a complaint, the county said.

The county issued the following statement Friday night:

We apologize for this unfortunate situation, particularly on such an important day, Juneteenth. Our crews were following policy to remove markings, regardless of the message, on County right-of-way in response to a received complaint.  None of the markings were removed from private property.

We understand the deep feelings that are present in the community. Our mission is to deliver public services based on established policies in a consistent manner. We’re reviewing our policy. Our crews take great pride in keeping Arlington clean and safe.

The action drew widespread condemnation from residents and others after a neighbor wrote about it on social media and ARLnow subsequently published an article.

On Friday night, the neighborhood’s civic association condemned the removal of the chalk art and demanded answers from the county.

“These chalk drawings were expressions of solidarity with current racial justice protests done by African-American children, and whose father is a US Navy officer,” wrote the Boulevard Manor Civic Association. “The DES employees were ‘ordered’ to power wash the children’s chalk drawings as another resident in BMCA ‘complained.’ BMCA strongly condemns, is saddened, and is disappointed in the above action taken by DES.”

The Arlington branch of the NAACP said it “sent the County Board a communication” as well.

Earlier Friday, Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey called the removal “a mistake” and “wrong.”

“It was a mistake to prioritize responding to this call during a pandemic where our workers should not be deployed unnecessarily,” Dorsey told ARLnow. “Furthermore, removal of the chalk art from a driveway apron, widely known to be the responsibility of the resident, was wrong.”

“We apologize to the residents for erasing their expressions from their property and to our workers who were directed to do it,” Dorsey continued. “That this occurred as our County gathered to reflect on the unfulfilled promise of Black liberation on Juneteenth adds further insult, and compels us to confront the role of our government in perpetuating systemic inequities. We can, must, and will do better.”

Despite rain yesterday, residents came out to support the family whose drawings were removed, adding more chalk art and quotes to the street, sidewalk and driveway. More expressions of solidarity are expected today.

“We plan to go out again to line the streets and sidewalks with messages of solidarity and support for the Hamptons,” a tipster tells ARLnow.

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