Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Hundreds Protest Along George Mason Drive — Hundreds of people lined George Mason Drive Monday evening to protest racism and support Black Lives Matter. The protest was organized by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. [Twitter, Twitter]

Break-in at Claremont Elementary — “At approximately 12:30 a.m. on May 31, police were dispatched to the report of a burglary alarm. Arriving officers observed four suspects inside of a building and established a perimeter. While clearing the building, the four suspects were located on the roof and taken into custody without incident.” [Arlington County]

Local GOP Amps Up Social Media Presence — “The Arlington County Republican Committee often has a hard time competing with its Democratic counterpart at the ballot box. But the local GOP is working to win the battle of social media. Local Republicans recently announced that Taylor Jack, a rising senior at James Madison University, has joined the party’s public-relations team.” [InsideNova]

Beyer’s GOP Challenger Selected — “The candidate who positioned himself as the more conservative in the field emerged the victor and will become the Republican challenger in a decidedly uphill battle to unseat U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th). Jeff Jordan defeated Mark Ellmore in the 8th District Republican Committee convention.” [InsideNova]

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In a special work session with the Arlington County Board, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the board that achieving racial equity will involve restructuring the budget.

The former mayor spoke to the County Board at a work session yesterday morning (Monday) as the County’s budget process kicks into high gear.

Landrieu, author of In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, spoke briefly about the history of racism in America. He said changes had to go beyond just removing Confederate names from streets and schools, or taking statues down and calling it a day. He said southern localities need to do more to address the roots of institutionalized racism.

“I understand Elizabeth Warren and Bernie [Sanders] are mad at the people who have [wealth], but it’s not just the institutions today that created the wealth gap between African Americans and white people,” Landrieu said. “Those discrepancies have been baked in over time.”

Landrieu was in Arlington at the invitation of the County Board, which is embarking on a year-long push to continue building equity into its budgetary and policy decision-making.

“The more you get into it and look at things, it’s clear there’s more we need to do to ensure equity and that the government’s working for everyone,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey told ARLnow, prior to the meeting. “Arlington reached out to Mitch, after seeing some of the work he did… it’s part of the budget process. We’re trying to infuse equity into all of our budget discussions.”

Much of the discussion was generalized, with Landrieu noting that he didn’t know how some of the specific mechanisms functioned within Arlington, and County Board members admitting they hadn’t read Landrieu’s book.

Landrieu noted that it was going to take considerable effort to rebalance after generations of families building generational wealth under an unequal system. Part of the solution, he said, is focusing on equity rather than equality in public services — a concept previously endorsed at the County Board.

“Budgets reflect whether you mean what you say,” Landrieu said. “[It shows] who pays and who gets what — that’s critically important.”

Two of Landrieu’s colleagues told the County Board that part of the process is going to various department heads to educate them and work on restructuring the budgets within the department. Changes included adding documentation in multiple languages, making accessibility improvements for people who were visually impaired, and holding meetings in places more accessible to public transit.

“You have to say ‘show me how we’re using the funding to close the gap’ and bake that into the way we do the budget,” Landrieu said. “When department heads know that, the budgets look vastly different.”

Landrieu’s staff noted, however, that as Arlington continues to grow it needs to look at how that growth is managed to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact vulnerable communities.

“You’ve given me comfort that despite the fact that our equity initiatives are in their infancy, that’s where we need to be in our early stages if we’re going to institutionalize this and not have it be just a periodic occurrence,” County Board member Christian Dorsey said. “You’ve given us practical advice for taking it to the next level in the months to come.”

Garvey said residents should expect more equity-focused changes in the coming months.

“Should be more than just removal of library fines,” as called for in the County Manager’s proposed budget, Garvey said. “Each department should have something… I expect to see a lot more items going forward.”

“It’s all about good government,” Garvey added. “It helps government work better for everyone, not just a certain group.”

Photo via Arlington County

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A woman accused of attacking two nannies in a dispute over her child’s behavior in a local park has a court date set for next month.

Falls Church resident Fatimazahra Berrada, 31, is set for a Dec. 3 trial date on two misdemeanor charges of assault and battery.

The charges stem from a dispute in the park near the Lyon Park Community Center on Sept. 23. We’re told two nannies confronted Berrada about alleged aggressive behavior by her child toward their charges. According to police, that escalated into a shouting match and Berrada throwing a playground toy and striking one of the nannies in the face.

More from an Arlington County Police crime report:

ASSAULT & BATTERY, 2019-09230176, N. Garfield Street at 4th Street N. At approximately 3:10 p.m. on September 23, police were dispatched to the report of a fight. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect and the two female victims were in a park when they became engaged in a verbal dispute over the way children in their care were playing. The incident escalated and the suspect allegedly began yelling and threw a playground toy at the victims before striking one victim in the face. Medics responded to the scene and no significant injuries were reported. The victims declined prosecution at the time of the incident. Charges were later sought on October 4 and the suspect turned herself in to police on October 8. Fatimazahra Berrada, 31, of Falls Church, VA, was charged with Assault and Battery (x2).

The incident led to outrage on the neighborhood’s Nextdoor network after a resident posted that “racist insults” were yelled at the nannies during the incident. A source tells ARLnow that the victims alleged being told to “go back to your country,” but police and prosecutors did not find enough evidence to seek a longer sentence based on a bias-motivated crime, adding that the dispute originated with the discussion of child behavior.

The November issue of the Lyon Park Citizen Association newsletter included allegations of an “ugly incident in our community park” sparked by “a woman passing by [who] took offense at the fact they were speaking in Spanish.” Police told ARLnow they have no evidence of that sequence of events happening, however.

“It is hard to believe that the woman… hasn’t gotten the message posted in front yards across our community — Hate Has No Home Here!” the newsletter says.

Photo via Google Maps

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This weekend the League of Women Voters of Arlington is hosting a workshop to educate residents about the history of racism behind American — and Arlington’s — housing policies.

The free workshop is co-sponsored by the local NAACP branch and the nonprofit Alliance for Housing Solutions, and will run from 1-3 p.m. this Saturday, September 28 at Wakefield High School.

Local nonprofit Challenging Racism will explain how the federal government denied black homebuyers mortgages — a policy known as redlining — and subsidized white suburbs.

Former Wakefield teacher and co-founder of Challenging Racism, Marty Swaim, told ARLnow that the Federal Housing Administration started subsidized mortgages during the Great Depression — but only to whites. In segregated Arlington, this led to developers building suburbs for white buyers who could access the federal program helping them afford the properties.

“It depressed the value of black properties because it made those areas even less desirable,” Swaim said. “It’s a cascade of effects.” 

One 1971 HUD guide for homebuyers in Arlington, retrieved from the Center of Local History’s archives, mapped housing by price. Black neighborhoods like Hall’s Hill and Green Valley were color-coded in red to signify the lowest home values (under $20,000.) Whiter neighborhoods in North Arlington were shaded blue and purple to indicate more attractive homes valued between $40,000 and $50,000.

“A lot of Federal Housing Administration loans went to people who settled in these areas, and they were all white,” said Swaim.

Redlining was in addition to another form of discrimination prevalent in Virginia: restrictive covenants on deeds that prevented homeowners from selling to minority homebuyers. Some such covenants remain on deeds in Arlington, unenforceable but a reminder of the state’s segregated past.

Redlining and restrictive covenants were outlawed in 1968 with the passage of the Fair Housing Act, a bill which took years to gain traction. In 1965, activists in Northern Virginia led a petition drive to support it, garnering signatures from 9,926 Arlingtonians, some of whom reporters from the Arlington Sun described as signing the petition in secret from their husbands or neighbors.

“It is abundantly clear that the Negroes will be welcomed in hundreds of neighborhoods in Northern Virginia,” activist Arthur Hughes told the Sun at the time.

But even after the Fair Housing Act passed, decades of discrimination would affect black neighborhoods in Arlington, and nationwide, for years to come.

“Arlington is not immune,” agreed Carol Brooke, who heads the League’s Affordable Housing Committee.

Brooke said Saturday’s event is an opportunity to highlight how racist policies shaped neighborhoods and determined who has been allowed to call Arlington home.

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Arlington will soon be studying how to factor racial equity in policymaking thanks to a new resolution passed this weekend.

The Arlington County Board unanimously adopted a resolution its meeting this past Saturday, September 21, committing the county to gathering data on racial inequality in Arlington, creating a “scorecard” to track progress made, and designing a tool to help officials consider race during policy and budget decisions, among other actions.

The three-page resolution is part of the county’s participation in a training program with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a national racial justice organization from University of California Berkeley’s racial justice institute and activist organization Race Forward.

As part of the the nine-month program, county officials will design the racial equity tool for policymaking, aimed at improving currently unequal policy outcomes based on race.

“Arlington County has achieved great success in attaining ‘secure, attractive, residential and commercial neighborhoods’ with engaged citizenry and resilient, sustainable communities, but recognizes this is not the experience of all Arlingtonians,” reads the Saturday resolution.

County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said that many “grassroots” efforts have existed in Arlington to address racism and unequal access to resources, but that’s an imperfect system.

“We weren’t hitting everything,” he said. “It was not comprehensive.”

“The pervasiveness and the systemic nature of inequity in our society means you can’t pick and choose where you want to make a difference,” added Dorsey. “You have to actually make that difference enterprise-wide, community-wide.”

Board member Katie Cristol praised county staff for their work on the project, and said staff buy-in was essential because everything local government does from “filling pop-holes to renewing library books” touches themes of racial equity.

Officials noted during the weekend discussion that the commitment to equity is designed to build on the county’s existing equality initiatives dedicated to housing, health, childcare, and internet access. Research previously found a 10-year life expectancy gap between some Arlington residents depending on where they live and that students of color faced higher rates of obesity, teen pregnancy, and lower rates of care for mental health.

“Simply put, it’s about meeting people where they are,” Assistant County Manager Samia Byrd said of the new initiative. “And beginning to open doors to provide access to pathways that have been traditionally or systematically blocked.”

Byrd said Arlington will assemble an interdepartmental task force to address racial inequities that will include Arlington Public Schools, which has faced accusations of racial bias in student discipline, and settled a lawsuit with the Department of Justice over inadequate support for English-language learning students.

“The vast majority of our history is one where government has played a role in creating and maintaining racial inequities,” said GARE Director Julie Nelson. “And so for us it’s really important for us to recognize what our vision is, and what our values are, and to act accordingly.”

GARE currently works with local governments in around 40 states, including Virginia and Maryland, according to its website.

“The current paradigm is challenging the premise of equality and instead considering equity,” Byrd noted.

“Frankly this is a step forward for the families that [the Arlington Food Assistance Center] serves,” said AFAC’s Executive Director and CEO Charles Meng.

“This isn’t about feeling good,” said Board member Libby Garvey. “It’s about making it better for everybody.”

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Morning Notes

Ballston Burglar Busted — “At approximately 6:41 p.m. on September 15, police were dispatched to the report of a suspicious person. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was inside her residence when she observed the male suspect allegedly approach the door to the residence and attempt to force entry, causing damage. The suspect attempted to flee on foot prior to police arrival. Officers located the suspect in the area and he was positively identified.” [Arlington County]

N. Va. Locales Team Up to Lure More Employers — “Prompted partly by the success in luring Amazon, 10 Northern Virginia jurisdictions have formed an alliance to market themselves as a region to attract other companies, especially those in the high-tech arena. Instead of trying to poach businesses from each other, or promote themselves at their neighbors’ expense, they will compete mainly as a group against other major metropolitan areas such as Boston and Silicon Valley.” [Washington Post, Washington Business Journal]

Housing Discrimination Forum Planned — “A coalition of organizations will look at the history of housing discrimination in Arlington in an upcoming forum. ‘The Color of Housing: The History of Racism in Housing in Arlington’ will be held on Saturday, Sept. 28 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Wakefield High School.” [InsideNova]

N. Arlington Couple’s Nomadic Adventure — “Journalist Dan Kois and his wife, attorney Alia Smith, felt that their busy, comfortable existence in North Arlington was stifling true connections with their young daughters. So they did what some Washington parents only dream of: They moved far away. Then they moved again. And again.” [Washingtonian]

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“Virginia is for lovers. No KKK.”

The owner of the shed on 19th Road N. had no intention of being at the center of a civil rights message, but the back of his property expresses a message of tolerance to anyone riding the Metro through the East Falls Church station or taking the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.

The sign says Virginia is for Lovers — a slogan for the state — with “KKK” surrounded by a big red “no” sign.

The sign has been noted a number of times on Twitter since 2018, with tweets mainly expressing support for the message. But the owner of the shed said he didn’t put the sign up and has no idea who did or when.

“The first I heard about it was when one of my neighbors said ‘have you seen the back of your shed?'” said the man, who was wearing a National Rife Association t-shirt when a reporter stopped by to ask about the message on Monday.

The back wall of the shed is accessible from the trail but difficult to reach from the ground.

“I’ll say this, whoever put it up was talented,” the man said. “It’s up in the air, so they needed a ladder to get up there. And the spacing between the letters… it’s nicely done.”

But while the man (who did not want to give his name) was not opposed to the message, he was a little concerned about courting controversy or retaliation — particularly with white nationalist activity cropping up throughout the area. He said he was worried someone could come along and burn the building down.

Those who want to see the artwork should come sooner rather than later though, as the owner said he plans to place vinyl siding around the shed a some point in the near future, thus covering up the message in the process.

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Morning Notes

Thousands Expected at Today’s Amazon Event — “Thousands of job-seekers are expected to swarm the site of Amazon’s future headquarters at a ‘career day‘ in Crystal City on Tuesday, as the online retail giant begins to accelerate its hiring and presence in Northern Virginia.” The opening time has been pushed up to 8 a.m. [Washington Post, Twitter]

Suspect Chomps on Cop Along Lee Highway — “The officer initiated a traffic stop on the vehicle and made contact with Suspect One, when he observed Suspect Two attempt to flee on foot. With the assistance of additional officers arriving on scene, Suspect Two was stopped. While officers attempted to remove Suspect One from the vehicle and detain him, he actively resisted and bit an officer.” [Arlington County]

Race No Longer Required on Marriage LicensesUpdated at 8:45 a.m. — “Virginia will no longer require couples to identify by race on their marriage licenses, the state’s attorney general announced this week. Under a new policy — which Attorney General Mark Herring detailed in emails to court clerks and members of the media late Friday — people getting married will be able to select ‘Declined to Answer’ in a box asking about race.” [Washington Post]

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One local attorney and a handful of couples are hoping a lawsuit will force the state of Virginia to remove the vestiges of a Jim Crow law from marriage licenses.

Attorney Victor Glasberg filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday to remove a requirement that all couples seeking to get married in the state list their race on the license. The long-time civil rights attorney argued in the filing that the mandatory question subjects people to the relics of slavery forbidden by the Thirteenth Amendment, and the right to due process enshrined by the Fourteenth Amendment.

“Our conventional racial classification were born in and carried forward in white supremacy. You simply can’t get away from that. It’s a fact of life,” said Glasberg, who has spent the past five years digging into the history behind the requirement he calls a “relic.”

He found that the state is required to collect the racial makeup of couples per the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which also makes it a felony for couples to lie about their race on their marriage license application. The architect behind the law was Walter A. Plecker, a eugenicist who led a white supremacist organization and whose death by being run over with a car in 1947 was widely celebrated.

One couple acting as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, Samuel Sarfo and Ashley Ramkishun, said they chose not to go forward with applying for their marriage license after a friend told them about the requirement and they recently saw it for themselves.

“We ended up speaking with two clerks at the office and they both confirmed that that it was a statutory requirement,” Ramkishun, 26, told ARLnow. “They told us if we didn’t want to put down a race we would have to put down ‘Other.'”

Arlington requires applicants to choose from identifying as black, American Indian, Asian, Caucasian, Hispanic, Pacific Islander, or Other on their application.

Sarfo is from Ghana and Ramkishun’s family is from Guyana, though because her ancestors are from western India she identifies as Asian Indian. There are no boxes that fix their ancestry, and Ramiksun said even if there were she wouldn’t want to fill them out.

“Why does the government need to know that information in order for me to marry Sam?” she said.

The two got engaged two years ago after they both worked at the Abercrombie and Fitch in the Pentagon City mall in 2013. Since then, the couple moved to Florida but hoped to get married in Arlington to commemorate where they met, and make travel easier for friends and family still located in the D.C. area.

“If we are the first couple to have changed made for us it’s going to mean everything,” said Sarfo, 34. “It’s something that could go a long way.”

Glasberg said when he married his wife in 1980, the requirement struck him as odd. He said he tried to write down “human”on their marriage license application in Alexandria, but the clerk said, “Yeah you can put it down and you won’t get a license.”

After thinking about it over the years, the attorney said he decided to try to remove the requirement after archives indicate Plecker required people to list race on birth certificates and marriage license to prevent interracial marriage.

In case exhibits, Glasberg included copies of letters that Plecker’s office sent families after the 1922 act passed, warning them that “it is an awful thing” to pass their mixed race children off as white as they were not supposed to be in white schools or allowed to marry white partners.

In one letter, the official said hundreds of black Virginians were registering as Native American on their birth certificates “with the ultimate purpose of passing over and marrying into the white race” but his office was able to catch them by tracing ancestry information with the U.S. Census. In another letter, the eugenicist writes to a Circuit Court judge that it is a “a favorite trick of these mixed breeds” to cross county lines to register as white on birth certificates and marriage licenses.

Plecker ended a 1943 letter with a boast about the racial database his office amassed on Virginia citizens, writing that “Hitler’s genealogical study of the Jews is not more complete.”

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Several parents with children in Arlington Public Schools have formed a group to address what they say are persistent racial disparities in the county’s school system.

The group, Black Parents of Arlington, shared a pamphlet with public data on issues like discipline they say show how APS students of color are being left behind. Together, the members plan to advocate for solutions and support other parents of color in running for PTAs and APS advisory positions.

“Yes we are happy to know that the majority of black students are taking at least one AP or IB class,” said BPA member Amina Luqman-Dawson. “However, it is really sobering to see that the pass rates are at 31%.”

Another area where disparities exist: standardized testing. The latest results from state-mandated Standards of Learning tests show disparities between white, Asian and multiracial students on one side, and black and Latino students on the other side, the Sun Gazette reported Tuesday.

Members said they were proud of APS’s high on-time graduation rates, but pointed out that APS data indicates only about 46% of black students earned advanced studies diplomas over the last three years — compared to around 82% of white students.

“We’re not looking for just passing, we’re looking for excellence,” said Luqman-Dawson, who lives in Shirlington and works with education policy and non-profits.

Another data set highlighted in the group’s pamphlet is the rate at which white youth versus black youth are entered into APS’s Gifted and Talented Program: 12% percent of black students in 2017-2018 entered the program, compared to 25% of white students.

“We are not only looking at how black students are being negatively stereotyped,” said Luqman-Dawson. “I think you’re also looking at how white students are being favorably viewed.”

In response, Arlington Public Schools acknowledged the issue and said it is continuing to work to close what it described as an “opportunity gap.”

“We agree that there is a gap that exists between student groups,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said in a statement today (Wednesday). “We have a professional commitment to close the opportunity gap, and this is a top priority for APS and the School Board.”

Bellavia said APS needed to make more improvements, but highlighted some the school system had made, including:

  • Increasing the graduation rate of black students
  • Increasing the pass rates of mathematics standardized tests for black students
  • Hiring a Diversity Officer with the fiscal year 2020 budget
  • The APS Mathematics Office holding four parent-teacher sessions for black families

The school system has previously faced scrutiny for its discipline rates, racist reactions to a diversity sign in Yorktown High School, and more recently, for backlash after a teacher unknowingly-planted cotton. In May, APS also signed a Department of Justice settlement over inadequate support for English-language-learning students and their families.

BPA member Sherrice Kerns, who lives in Penrose and works as a policy analyst, pointed out in a Tuesday interview that these findings mirrors national data about racial disparities in schools. 

“APS is certainly not immune to these sorts of disparities,” she said.

“This is not unique to Arlington,” agreed Bellavia in his statement. “School systems across the country have been addressing this challenge for a long time.”

Today, BPA’s members say they hope to work together on several problems, including:

  • Closing the achievement gap between black and white students
  • Making staff cultural competency training mandatory
  • Updating discipline policies to ensure black students are not excessively punished nor unfairly prosecuted

Members of the group all told ARLnow that they hope BPA can help advocate for other parents of color who don’t have time for nighttime meeting and advocacy. They also are seeking to boost membership in PTAs among black parents. The group is planning a cookout for parents interested in joining BPA on Sunday, September 8 at Alcova Heights Park (901 S. George Mason Drive) from 3-5 p.m.

“One of the our goals is to bridge the gap between the parents who aren’t able to show up to meetings,” said Luqman-Dawson.

The members said overall they support APS, with several mentioning they moved to Arlington because APS was highly ranked and offered quality programs. But since then, Luqman-Dawson said it’s been “sobering” to see racial bias even at the schools as good as the ones in APS.

“It’s hard to send a child to school thinking that they are going to be victims, or going to be poorly judged,” she said.

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A county facility that serves people with developmental disabilities was spray painted with “an array of racial and gender slurs” earlier this week.

Staff members at the Woodmont Community Integration Center on the 2400 block of N. Fillmore Street discovered the hateful graffiti all over the building and a vehicle early Tuesday morning. Police were called and are still investigating the incident, an ACPD spokeswoman said.

The center shares the building, in Woodmont Park, with the YMCA’s Woodmont Gymnastics Center.

“When staff arrived for work on Tuesday morning, they found an array of derogatory words written across the outside walls and windows of the CIC,” a tipster tells ARLnow. “Similar words were also written adjacent to the main entrance of the YMCA (on the upper level), on several disabled parking signs, and a van.”

The graffiti has since been removed by county crews, but the center closed early on Tuesday due to the nature of the words, which were described by a county official as “derogatory” and “hateful.”

“We will be exploring additional measures to increase safety at the site, and the Arlington Police will continue heightened surveillance of the entire area,” wrote Arlington Dept. of Human Services Director Anita Friedman, in a letter sent to “families and friends of the Community Integration Center.”

The full letter is below.

Family and Friends of the CIC — Upon arriving for work on Tuesday morning, August 5th, staff noticed the walls and glass windows adjacent to the entrance of the CIC covered with an array of racial and gender slurs, as well as derogatory words targeting people with developmental and other disabilities. Similar words were also written on the entrance to the YMCA (upper level of the building), signs for disabled parking, and the MVLE van, which was parked in the main parking lot and used for the Arlington cleaning enclave.

The staff immediately contacted the Arlington County Police, which responded to the scene right away. This matter remains under investigation by the Arlington Police.

The Arlington Departments of Environmental Services and Parks and Recreation also responded to the CIC to begin the process of removing the hateful words from the glass windows and walls. Cleaning the glass windows was relatively easy; however, removing the words from the brick walls has been more difficult. We are hopeful to have zero physical evidence of the words by the end of the week, though it will take much longer for the hurt caused by such words to heal.

ServiceSource, in consultation with DHS staff, made the decision to close the program on August 5th to allow time for clean-up and to process the emotional impact on staff, which will be ongoing. We also wanted to minimize the exposure of such hatred to our participants of this program.

DHS staff trained in trauma and crisis management were at the CIC to support the ServiceSource staff and process this event. Lastly, the County Manager and Arlington County Board have been made aware of this matter.

I personally condemn this kind of hatred. It has no place in our community and will not be tolerated by our leadership. Our staff here at DHS are working closely with ServiceSource to ensure the continued safety of all CIC participants and staff. We will be exploring additional measures to increase safety at the site, and the Arlington Police will continue heightened surveillance of the entire area.

Thank you for continuing to entrust your son or daughter to our care along with Service Source as our partner. Please feel free to reach out to La Voyce Reid, Bureau Chief, Developmental Disability Services, with any questions or concerns you may have.

Ashley Hopko and Vernon Miles contributed to this report.

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