Alexandria, VA

Representatives of Alexandria’s law enforcement community, in a Monday night Zoom meeting, said they welcomed a closer look in order to eradicate systemic racism in their respective departments.

Police Chief Michael Brown and Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Shelbert Williams discussed the work that their departments have done over the years and in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police. Mayor Justin Wilson also chimed into the conversation, which was moderated by city’s racial and social equity officer Jaqueline Tucker.

The meeting was requested by activist Tiffany Flowers, who tweeted to Mayor Justin Wilson about opening an online conversation regarding policing in the city.

“I felt like protesting wasn’t just enough,” Flowers said. “I felt like the best way to go about getting this reform that we’re seeking is to start reaching out to our city officials, and I just want to thank the city of Alexandria for being so helpful.”

Earlier this month, the city council unanimously passed a proposal by Councilman Mo Seifeldein to create a police review board.

“I think time will only be test of this, but what I sense is the courage in the community to deal with some of these issues,” Wilson said, adding that new laws going into effect on July 1 will add more equity to arrests made. “Those are changes that relate to marijuana, those are changes as it relates to shoplifting that really add more equity and will change the way that public safety addresses these crimes. I think these are long overdue changes and will help address in some ways some of the disparities that we see.”

A recent report from the Alexandria Gazette, for instance, found that Black males in Alexandria are arrested far more frequently than anyone else.

Brown said the department is looking at its data to find any elements of bias.

“Clearly, with the anger and the voices being heard across the country, including this city, we have to look at what we’re doing to make sure we’re doing it right and treating people with respect,” Brown said.

Williams, who is African American, said that it’s understandable that the community is angry.

“It’s tough to convince people that we’re doing what we need to do as law enforcement officers, to be fair, to understand that everyone’s human beings, and we should be treated with that same respect that we ask,” he said. “And with our officers, we’ve done that, in my opinion.”

Brown said that his department is currently 20.4% female, and the staff are 66% white, 18% African American, 5% Asian, 12% Hispanic and 2% other. He added that police are using tactics to deescalate situations, like a recent barricade situation in Potomac Yard, where a African American woman allegedly fired a handgun at officers from her home.

“Our folks used considerable restraint… in allowing the person eventually to get to the point where they fell asleep and were taken into protective custody without issue,” Brown said.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Among Top Cities Where Women Find Success — “Here in Alexandria, more than two-thirds of women have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. The median income of women is more than $75,800. In addition, almost one-third (31.3 percent) of local businesses are owned by women.” [Alexandria Living]

Mayor Supports Governor Extending Rent Moratorium — “The extraordinary financial pressure facing residents of Alexandria who are experiencing unemployment or loss of income continues.‬ ‪Today, I supported the Governor of Virginia’s efforts to extend the moratorium on evictions to allow state/local rent relief programs to assist.” ‬[Facebook]

Circuit Court Judge Nolan Dawkins Retires — “People in Alexandria turned out Friday to celebrate the retirement of the circuit court’s first Black judge. News4’s Northern Virginia bureau chief Julie Carey reports.” [News4]

Volunteer Alexandria Makes 7,000 Face Masks — “This week, Griffin, Jenelle, and Caroline helped bag masks. Griffin and Jenell even helped two days in a row! So far, volunteers have completed 17 orders totaling 7,000 masks that will be going to local nonprofits.” [Facebook]

Together We Bake is Taking Orders — “Orders are now available for contactless pick-up! You can pick up your orders Tuesday’s and Thursday’s between 10:30 and 3. Please allow 24 hours for your order to be processed.” [Facebook]

City Needs Employers for Job Fair — “WDC is seeking employers to participate in the Virginia Careerworks Alexandria/Arlington Virtual Job Fair on Wednesday, July 15, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Participation is free. Employers must register by July 6.” [Facebook]

New Job: Pet Care Specialist at Barkley Square — “We are looking for dedicated animal lovers to join our growing company! We offer a competitive benefits package including health insurance, supplemental insurance, IRA, and smartphone for full-time VIP client routes. Applicants MUST have a car, internet access, and basic computer skills to be considered for employment. We conduct a thorough background check before hiring.” [Indeed]

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After extensive drive-thru and walk-up testing at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alexandria is preparing to shift the focus toward taking testing to the city’s heavily impacted communities.

Mayor Justin Wilson said in the last of his weekly town hall meetings yesterday (Thursday) that he spoke to the Virginia Secretary of Health’s office about shifting the focus of testing.

“We pitched targeted testing in communities, neighborhoods and populations,” Wilson said. “Part of the idea was getting away from mass testing events which ultimately yield a wide array of people but didn’t yield a lot of positive tests. We’re going to try to bring testing to the populations where we know there’s the spread of infection in the community. The state has been favorable to that proposal.”

Arlandria has been a hotspot of coronavirus. In May, nearly half of the city’s coronavirus cases were in the Arlandria and Potomac Yard Zip code of 22305. Wilson said most of the cases in Alexandria have been from community spread.

Positive testing has gone down to near 5%, down from the 20-30% positive testing rates earlier or 50% rate in targeted testing in Arlandria. Part of that has been increased testing capacity yielding a lower percentage of positive tests, but Wilson also noted that overall social distancing has led to a fairly low rate of virus reproduction.

“Today, Virginia looks pretty good,” Wilson said. “Only three states have a lower rate of virus reproduction. We’re under one, which means each person infected is infecting less than one other person. That means isolation is working and people are taking the precautions they’re supposed to take… We have to keep that up to prevent us from going back the other way.”

While Alexandria’s long-term care facilities represent a relatively low number of cases, Wilson said they have seen a disproportionately high number of deaths.

“Out of 50 deaths in the city, 22 have come from one of three long-term care facilities,” Wilson said. “Overall, they account for an overall low percentage of cases. Most are from community spread. But those are areas that have been hit rather hard.”

The city is preparing to move into Phase 3 of reopening next Wednesday, which Wilson said will likely be a more modest change than the two earlier phases of reopening.

“This allows restaurants to increase capacity, allows entertainment venues to come back at 50% and gyms can come back at 75% capacity,” Wilson said. “After Phase 3, there is no clearly other defined phases.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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The city is rationing out spots in summer camp programs reopening soon, but even some in the city’s leadership are unclear on why space will be so limited while the city has a preponderance of unused space and resources.

“Summer camp programs are starting,” said Jim Spengler, director of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities in a recent joint meeting between the City Council and the School Board. “They are aimed at essential workers and will expand beyond essential workers based on enrollment.”

But Mayor Justin Wilson noted that with Phase 3 going into effect next week, many jobs are going to start expecting those employees to come back. With many summer camps canceled, those parents will be left without options for childcare programs.

“If that happens will expect to see a whole crunch of workers going back to work,” Wilson said. “To the extent that we have space, we can be essential in helping out frontline workers go back to the workspace. We have a lot of unused space, so I want us to explore our options before we say ‘we can’t use that capacity.'”

Wilson said staff needs to look at school facilities and city facilities to see what kind of space is available to be used for summer programming.

“It seems like we should be looking for every opportunity we can in this environment,” Wilson said. “I’m constantly hearing from parents who are very concerned about their ability to go back to work, particularly when bosses start to expect it. I feel like we can be part of that solution, and there’s money available for us to be part of this, but we have to work out the facility side of this.”

There are complications beyond just facility space, however. Spengler said limits with social distancing mean some spaces that aren’t being utilized aren’t viable as summer program spaces.

“As schools are finding with school buses, for example, social distancing really controls how many people you get together more than the aggregate number you’re given by the Governor,” Spengler said. “The other is if we were able to enroll more students, then we have a staffing issue. We don’t have the staff available because we didn’t do normal summer hiring, so we don’t have the staff capacity to expand much beyond where we are right now.”

But city leaders said that with the city still facing high unemployment figures, not having staff shouldn’t be a problem.

“I feel like that’s a solvable problem,” Wilson said. “I’ll be crystal clear, that seems like something we should be able to figure it out. It seems like this is not a normal circumstance and we can find staff, there’s a lot of people looking for jobs.”

“I would echo the mayor’s sentiment,” City Councilman John Chapman said. “This is an extraordinary time, but we do have a number of people looking for opportunities. Capacity is something that we just need to work through. I don’t think it’s something that we stop at and say ‘We can’t do it’ because if we’re vocal about looking for people, I think we’ll get quality people who would be able to run some of our programmings.”

Wilson added that a good place to start would be hiring from canceled summer camp programs.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that Virginia will move into Phase 3 next Wednesday, July 1, and for Alexandria that means looser restrictions on retail, restaurant and entertainment venues.

The move puts Alexandria and Northern Virginia back on the same timeline as the rest of the state, which Mayor Justin Wilson attributed to the efforts at social distancing and proper hygiene of local residents.

“The efforts of residents and businesses to respect public health guidance has been successful,” Wilson said. “We have slowed the spread and been able to ease restrictions. But we are not out of the woods yet. We need to continue socially distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands. Doing so will allow us to continue to move back to a more normal situation.”

The largest change will be the reduction or elimination on capacity restrictions. During Phase 2, non-essential retail and seating at restaurants had been limited to 50% capacity. The move into Phase 3 will eliminate those restrictions. High contact entertainment venues that had been closed will be allowed to open with 50% capacity. Fitness centers and pools will be able to open at 75% capacity.

Wilson said on social media that the downward trend in positive COVID-19 cases was one of the main criteria for reopening, but that the city will continue to expand testing.

The reopening comes even as other states that have had reopened have seen spikes in coronavirus cases. While the city’s rate of positive testing is going down, Alexandria does continue to see new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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Alexandria had quite a week, and it’s time to look back as it comes to a close.

In addition to moving into the second phase of its economic recovery, there were a number of important events of interest, including the city council’s passage of an ordinance prohibiting firearms on city property, approved the creation of a police review boardcontinued expressions of support for the black community in the wake of the George Floyd Murder, and a renewed effort to rename T.C. Williams High School.

Here are the top 11 most-read articles this week in Alexandria.

  1. BREAKING: Barricade Situation, Suspect Firing on Police on Main Line Boulevard
  2. What Changes When Alexandria Moves Into Phase 2 of Reopening
  3. T.C. Williams High School Renaming Question Resurfaces in Alexandria
  4. Man Wounded in Late Night Old Town Shooting, No Arrests
  5. Photos: Vigils and Protests Against Police Brutality Held in Alexandria
  6. Protests and Vigils for Racial Justice Planned in Alexandria
  7. Old Town Property Once Owned by George Washington For Sale at $4.1 Million
  8. Mayor: Alexandria Could Move into Phase 2 of Reopening Next Week
  9. Morning Notes
  10. Goodies Frozen Custard & Treats Plans to Open Late This Summer in Old Town
  11. Just In: Alexandria Tow Truck Driver Killed on I-495

Feel free to discuss those or other topics in the comments. Have a safe weekend!

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It was quite a week in Alexandria. The city saw the removal of a controversial Confederate Statue at Prince and Washington Streets, had numerous vigils and demonstrations against police brutality, and weathered more cases of COVID-19.

In the spirit of resting up and looking back at some of the top issues in Alexandria, ALXnow has included some of our top stories.

Here are the top 11 most-read articles this week in Alexandria.

  1. BREAKING: Barricade Situation, Suspect Firing on Police on Main Line Boulevard
  2. BREAKING: Old Town Confederate Statue Removed
  3. Alexandria Now Has 1,974 Cases of COVID-19, No New Deaths
  4. Vigil for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor in Old Town on Thursday
  5. Protests and Vigils for Racial Justice Planned in Alexandria
  6. Man Robbed of $400 at Gunpoint in Alexandria’s West End
  7. Mayor Wilson: Alexandria Can Honor George Floyd By Fixing Its Inequities
  8. Teen Arrested in Old Town for Weapon Possession and Drug Violation
  9. ACPS Announces Mandatory Summer Learning to Combat COVID-19 Academic Loss
  10. Unemployed Arlandria Mom Makes Ends Meet With El Salvadoran Recipes
  11. Alexandria Now Has 1,960 Cases of COVID-19, City Seeks Feedback on Coronavirus Response

Feel free to discuss those or other topics in the comments. Have a safe weekend!

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Alexandria’s Mayor Justin Wilson said the city could be ready to move into Phase 2 of reopening next Friday — if the city’s gradual COVID-19 recovery continues.

While the rest of Virginia is scheduled to start moving into Phase 2 of reopening tomorrow (Friday), Northern Virginia has to wait.

“We will not be in Phase 2 this week,” Wilson said in a virtual town hall yesterday (Wednesday). “The rest of the commonwealth will move into Phase 2 on Friday. We would not move into Phase 2 until, at the earliest, the following week — next Friday. Ultimately, we will have to see where the data goes before we determine when to move into Phase 2.”

Wilson said while some are pushing to move into Phase 2 as soon as possible, there’s also been pushback on moving forward at all with increasing numbers from testing. Wilson reiterated that the point of a phased reopening and flattening the curve is to control outbreaks and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed, which are eventualities Inova Alexandria says it is ready for.

The first phase has allowed some restaurants and service businesses to start reopening with restrictions to keep staff and customers healthy. Wilson said Phase 2 is essentially an expansion of that framework with some new businesses and locations allowed to reopen.

“The Governor released last week his Phase 2 guidelines,” Wilson said. “This is how businesses operate in Phase 2. It’s long. Some of the highlights are it would allow restaurants to operate indoors at 50% capacity. That’s probably the biggest change we’d see.”

The second phase or reopening could also allow swimming pools and summer camps to reopen, Wilson said. Regarding earlier discussions around reopening playgrounds, Wilson said those are still not included in Phase 2 of reopening but the city would continue monitoring guidance from the Center for Disease Control to see if that changes.

The ban on evictions has been extended another two weeks, Wilson said, but could resume once the courts start to reopen during the second phase.

“The courts have been closed since March,” Wilson said. “That has meant any evictions filed have been put off until courts reopen. That has been extended another two weeks. That means evictions have been continued to be put off, for now.”

Wilson said there is a significant backlog of cases and said evictions will be at the end of that line, meaning the earliest those would take place would likely by September or October.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Kamryn Powell is tired of feeling scared when she goes outside in Alexandria. The T.C. Williams senior says that recent killings of black Americans at the hands of the police around the country have made her fearful for her safety.

“Honestly, it’s completely heartbreaking,” Powell said in a virtual meeting with community leaders on Tuesday. “It makes me feel unsafe in my own country. For me to have to wake up and say, ‘I hope I make it back home today,’ is not something I should have to say. It’s not something my brother should have to say, it’s not something my sister should have to say, and for me to even think that is appalling.”

Powell’s comments were echoed by a number of leaders representing the city, including U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., Police Chief Michael Brown and the city’s Racial and Social Equity Officer Jacqueline Tucker.

Warner said he wanted to listen and learn, and that it is a frustrating time to be in Congress. He also criticized the president for ordering a recent use of force against protestors outside the White House.

“I used to be governor, but I’m also a fellow Alexandrian and I’m really proud of the voices I’ve heard tonight,” Warner said. “Our system doesn’t always work, God knows. I work in the U.S. Senate right now. I have to watch what happens down at the White House on a regular basis. I can assure you it is extraordinarily frustrating… when the President the United States uses tear gas to break up protesters so he could go over and hold a Bible in front of a church for a photo op. That is not who we are as Virginians, and Americans.”

Addressing Inequities

Tucker said the average income for African American households is $55,800, which is well below the median family income of $118,000.

“One in 10 Alexandria residents are living in poverty, and one in five children in Alexandria are living in poverty,” Tucker said. “58% of our ACPS students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and in some schools, over 90% of the student population are eligible for free and reduced lunch.” Read More

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As protests continue nationwide for victims of racial violence, Alexandria community organizers are planning to conduct a peaceful vigil in honor of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor on Thursday.

The vigil is scheduled to be held at Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe Street) from 7-8:30 p.m.

The recent incidents prompted open letters and messages from Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, Sheriff Dana Lawhorne and Police Chief Mike Brown.

Participants are scheduled to gather in the recreation center parking lot and walk to the front of the building where there will be a moment of silence, prayers and statements from community leaders.

The vigil is being organized Boyd Walker and Marianne Anderson.

“Expressing anger through violence is not welcome here,” notes the event announcement. “Anger will have to channeled into a prayer or meditation and constructive action to help others.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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As the country grapples with the death of George Floyd at the hands of four since-fired Minneapolis police officers, and the fiery protests that have followed, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson has released a letter to the community.

Wilson said that a “culture of white supremacy” is present in Alexandria, and that the current coronavirus pandemic has exposed how residents of color have high infection rates.

“The on-going COVID-19 outbreak has exposed one aspect of the disparities that exist in our City, as residents of color have been more infected, struggle more to recover and die more than our white residents have,” Wilson wrote on Facebook. “This is not because the virus is racist. It is because generations of disparities of every kind have created deep racial divides in health conditions and healthcare access.”

Wilson said that Floyd’s memory will be honored in Alexandria when it improves the inequities associated to wealth, education, housing, in health and in justice experienced by residents of color.

The full message is below.

Collectively, we have again been witnesses to a black man’s murder by a public servant sworn to protect and serve. I have struggled over the past few days to figure out the right words to say in response. We look to leaders with a performative expectation to fill the void with wisdom and a suggested path forward. As leaders we scour the internet for wise quotes, search for articles, looking for anything that might give those that we serve a reason to be hopeful.

But I got nothing.

Those who know me, know that I am prone to bulleted lists of policy answers for the problems that face our community. Perhaps, to a fault. I could certainly cite our racial equity initiative, our work to bring more transparency to policing, the plans for body-worn cameras in our future, work to ensure diversity in our police force, our efforts to train public safety employees in de-escalation techniques and our community policing initiatives. But we have heard all of this before.

Checklists do not solve this problem. We are called upon to uproot a culture of white supremacy woven into our founding as a nation, perpetuated through law and custom for generations, and present today in even the most “progressive” communities in our country, including Alexandria. That is a culture of white supremacy that devalues black lives and ignores the impact of hundreds of years of history on the present.

The on-going COVID-19 outbreak has exposed one aspect of the disparities that exist in our City, as residents of color have been more infected, struggle more to recover and die more than our white residents have. This is not because the virus is racist. It is because generations of disparities of every kind have created deep racial divides in health conditions and healthcare access.

In our City there are deep racial divides in wealth. This is not because the actors in our economy are all racists. It is because generations of disparities of every kind have built an economy that perpetuates wealth for those who have it and hinders social mobility for those that lack it.

A few months ago a homeowner in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in our City pulled me aside and showed me the early 20th century restrictive covenant that he had unearthed for his home. That document stated that “no lot or any part thereof shall ever be sold, leased to or occupied by any person of the negro race.” This was the line after the document stated that “pigs, poultry, cows and goats” could also not be kept on the premises. While those agreements, and the subsequent “redlining,” “steering’ and other insidious tactics have been illegal for decades, their legacy can safely predict how and where Alexandrians in the year 2020 live, work, learn and play.

In wealth, in education, in housing, in health and in justice, our City is full of inequities, some glaring, some subtle.

When we fix that, we will truly be doing something to honor George Floyd and the many that have preceded him and those that will likely follow him.

Collectively, we have again been witnesses to a black man’s murder by a public servant sworn to protect and serve. I…

Posted by Justin Wilson on Friday, May 29, 2020

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Alexandria’s library system is currently in the process of preparing for the first phase of reopening, but for many Alexandrians it could still be a while before you’re able to go and check out books.

In the video town hall last night (Thursday) where he also addressed the city’s coronavirus testing, Mayor Justin Wilson also offered a glimpse at what’s ahead for the city’s libraries.

“Going into phase one, [the libraries] are bringing staff back, organizing all of the holds placed over the last several months,” Wilson said. “The expectation is around June 15, people can pick up held books at the library.”

The Alexandria library’s phased reopening plan said the library will be offering curbside pickup for books. In the meantime, the library has a new selection of electronic options to help residents through the quarantine.

Once the city enters Phase 2 of reopening, which could be June 5 for the rest of the state, Wilson said Alexandrians will likely be able to start placing a hold on new books and going to pick them up.

Wilson said it won’t be until Phase 3 when the public parts of the library start to reopen to the public. Even then, the phased reopening plan notes that the library will be limited to 25% of its full capacity.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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