Weeks of tension and frustration over violence in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) boiled over last night with a small crowd of parents shouting at City Council members to restore the school resource officer (SRO) program.
In May, the City Council voted 4-3 in favor of reallocating funding away from SROs, a program started in 1997 that installed police officers in Alexandria’s high school and two middle schools. While the schools have additional security staff, SROs were authorized make arrests and carry weapons — a fact that made headlines in 2018 when an SRO accidentally fired his gun inside George Washington Middle School.
“My daughter with special needs is at ACPS,” said Jennifer Rohrbach, who drops her child off at school every day. “I witnessed two fights while dropping off my daughter. The lack of support for these kids, it’s distressing and upsetting. For me, as a lifelong Alexandrian… to hear those screams of distress, it’s unnecessary. There have been fights before, but not to this level.”
Rohrbach shared stories circulating among parents about extreme accounts of bullying and concerns about a “devious licks challenge” on TikTok. Rohrbach said the removal of SROs, intended to help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, has made the schools unsafe for all students. Though she wore a shirt supporting Republican Mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings, Rohrbach said she’s traditionally liberal and that the protest was non-partisan.
“A lot of defunding the program was about the African American population, but this is about all kids,” Rohrbach said. “Now no one is being served. I’m looking for safe schools for all students.”
Catchings was one of those protesting in support of restoring the SRO program.
“I’m out here in solidarity with parents,” Catchings said. “On the drive over, I thought back to the start of my campaign holding an ‘Open ACPS‘ sign… we have to make school a safe environment that isn’t toxic.”
One of the protestors, Roxana Guerra, is the parent of a 7th grader at George Washington Middle School. Guerra said she’s been in a state of constant anxiety after her son was assaulted in school.
“Two weeks ago, my son was bullied,” Guerra said. “His mask was pulled and he was slapped in the face. I didn’t find out until another parent told me, then the dean confirmed it… that he was hurt. I have anxiety every day and hope that he comes home safe. Finding this out by a third party was concerning, and anything could happen if these kids are coming in with weapons. I want our kids to be safe.”
Others at the protest noted that parents are so on edge a firecracker set off an evacuation from Alexandria City High School’s stadium during a football game.
“I’m a native Alexandrian, a product of ACPS,” said Liz Fuller. “The violence in schools is shocking. Children are not safe in school… Administrators are being pushed down in fights, security is being pushed, children are suffering brain injuries. The City Council has to listen to parents. They need to be held accountable. They defunded SROs with no plan.”
Protestors cornered City Council members who voted to defund the program as they entered City Hall, demanding that they change their position. Two, John Chapman and Canek Aguirre, briefly spoke with the crowd. Amy Jackson, who had voted against defunding the program, received more of a hero’s welcome from the crowd as she entered the building. Read More
In an office where items considered artifacts are usually arrowheads or ship timbers, City Historian Daniel Lee said his office has started a different kind of collection.
“We’ve started a collection of artifacts from the pandemic, like masks and signs,” Lee said. “It’s to chronicle, to a large extent, messages about how quickly things changed; whether that’s wearing masks or social distancing and washing hands. It’s at times difficult to remember where we’ve come from and how the pandemic has changed how we do our daily lives.”
“Obviously, pandemic isn’t the only thing that’s happened in the last year-and-a-half,” he said. “The fight for racial justice, especially since the murder of George Floyd, that initially caused us to collect artifacts related to the protests of George Floyd, but it’s become a larger project called the Black Lives Remembered project with a focus on racial justice in the larger context.”
Lee said the work on preservation has a two-fold goal: for those who lived through 2020 to look back on the last year, and to help future generations understand what life was like.
“The experiences we’re going through are historic,” Lee said. “That’s worthy of collecting and worthy of remembering, and hopefully that things change.”
Recognition of historic times as they’re being lived through can be sort of a mixed bag, Lee said. There are plenty of relics from the founding of the Lyceum in 1838 or the launch of Alexandria’s library network. Lee said those were thought of, even at the time, as history-making.
“As time has gone on; we have a tendency to not think in terms of how future generations will remember us, that’s not our chief concern,” Lee said. “We have an oral history project, which has existed since the 1980s. A lot of times what surprises me is that people who have done a lot in the city don’t think their experience as history. Schools desegregated during their lifetimes, isn’t that a big deal? It’s hard when you’re living through it to think about the future.”
Another example is the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which Lee said had an impact in Alexandria, but there wasn’t much local recorded or saved from when it happened. Read More
Over a dozen local residents and supporters rallied yesterday (Tuesday) to protest what they described as unsanitary conditions Morgan Properties locations in Alexandria’s West End.
Residents, ranging from children to seniors, held up photos they said were taken in the homes — including nests of rats, filthy water flowing into a bathtub, mold and holes in the wall.
Carlos, a resident at one of the local Morgan Properties locations, is living there through Section 8 housing and said exponentially increasing utility costs have put that in jeopardy, and that Morgan Properties staff have been inaccessible to ask about unexplained increases in utility costs.
“This is my first time living in a place and I don’t want to leave,” Carlos said. “They haven’t done anything about the mice, and I’ve only been here six months. Others have been dealing with this for years.”
Jessica has been living in Morgan Properties for three years and said residents have become used to being belittled by management.
“We had a water pipe burst on the third floor,” said Jessica. “All the bed, the furniture, the clothing, shoes, they all got wet. We went to management and they said they couldn’t help and then they were laughing.”
Another resident, Ashley, was with a group of supporters from a group called FTP DC. Ashley had also been a tenant at one of the Morgan Properties residences for two years.
“I was at Brookdale for over a year and I had a hole in the ceiling that they didn’t fix until I was moving out,” Ashley said. “People have to go to court over things, like they’d double charge rent.”
Ashley said her apartment was rife with rats, a recurring concern from many local residents.
Ingris Moran, lead organizer with regional organization Tenants and Workers United, said that the protestors are demanding a change in administration overseeing the properties. ALXnow reached out to a public relations firm listed as the media contact on the Morgan Properties website, but received no answer at time of writing.
In emails between Tenants and Workers United and Morgan Properties, property management said they were willing to meet with Tenants and Workers United and the City of Alexandria, but Moran said that her organization would not agree to discussions with Morgan Properties that didn’t include representatives from local residents.
Photo via Tenants and Workers United/Facebook
Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown says that he’s on the level about his surprise retirement announcement, and that he and his wife will soon pulling up stakes for the West Coast in the near future to take care of urgent family business.
“This was a personal decision that my wife and I came to manifest in me having to retire,” Brown told ALXnow.
Brown has given a recommendation on who should be the acting chief until a permanent replacement is chosen at the conclusion of a national search. His last day is June 25. Right now he’s worried about summer crime, although says that crime levels are now returning to pre-pandemic levels.
The department is currently dealing with critical staffing issues, namely temporarily filling available street assignments for patrol officers by reassigning other officers.
“We’re meeting our staffing needs on the street,” Brown said. “We’re very concerned about what may happen this summer.”
APD is funded for 311 positions, and effective July 1 the department will have 305 officers on duty. Of those, six are on administrative duties pending the outcome of an investigation after a chase suspect died in D.C., and there are a number of officers on family medical leave and other various reasons, Brown said.
“In order to supplement provide some stability for those temporary shortages, we pulled other officers in to kind of fill the gaps for patrol,” he said. “And that’s normally customary in this business when you have these kinds of situations taking place.”
Brown added, “We’re seeing crime revert back to what was normal, with some minor suggestions to prior to the pandemic. We’re not seeing the same thing in terms of, for example, auto thefts, that we once saw. The shootings are also lower in number than we had last year, especially towards the summer.”
On the bright side, he said, three APD officers who were previously on administrative duties after a shootout in Old Town North have been cleared for duty by Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter. Additionally, APD will be reassigning six officers previously assigned to the School Resource Officer program, which Council eliminated last month.
As for the SROs, Brown said that he supported the program, but would not offer an opinion on Council’s decision.
“I thought there was value in the SRO program,” he said. “But then again, I don’t have the authority to make that decision. My job is to carry out the decision that was made by our elected officials.”
Brown also left six months before being vested in the city’s retirement system, although Brown says it doesn’t bother him and that the decision wasn’t about money. After a 46-year career in law enforcement, this isn’t his first retirement.
“The fact of the matter is, I’ve had several retirements,” he said. “I took this job because I cared about this police department.”
Brown started as a police officer in Los Angeles in 1977, and was the Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol from 2004-2008. He was later California’s deputy secretary for public safety from 2008 to 2009, and then for six years was the director of the Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before being hired as Alexandria’s police chief in 2017.
Brown led the police department through a restructuring, as well as social unrest after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic, and an uptick in shooting events and other crime throughout the city. He restructured the department from four to three divisions, and took away deputy chief of police positions and added an assistant chief. He also says that under his leadership the department made strides with its 21st Century Policing effort.
“Some would argue differently, but we became very transparent ,” Brown said. “We put all of our policies, we put all of our reports on use of force on our website so that people could see that information and be critical of it.”
Brown continued, “Policing is never stable. Policing will always change, and it will change based upon events; it will change upon public discourse; it will change because the community, or… the nation at large has other questions, or other expectations… The real challenge for the law enforcement community is to be able to listen and to be able to adapt in order to survive, because if we don’t survive the public will get rid of you.”
Brown’s tenure was punctuated by dramatic events, starting with the Simpson Field Shooting, and culminating with the pandemic and social unrest after the murder of George Floyd. He would later pen an op-ed saying that the video of Floyd’s death appalled him, and he spoke with city leaders to the public and later joined protestors at a demonstration outside police headquarters.
Brown said his laundry list of people to thank is long.
“I admire this department for what it does,” he said. “It’s a good department, filled with great people, and they are out there every day taking care of the citizens, the residents of this city. It was a blessing to have the opportunity to work with them.”
The Alexandria Black History Museum has spent the last year gathering documentation from the unrest throughout the city following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
The virtual exhibition “Preserving Their Names” opens May 25 and includes pictures and objects from the demonstrations, including banners, face masks and poems.
Violent incidents against Black Americans throughout the country came to a head last summer, and in Alexandria there were a number of demonstrations, including on King Street, outside police headquarters and Charles Houston Recreation Center.
The museum is continuing to collect materials on the events, especially signs and posters.
It was a busy week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.
Governor Ralph Northam and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Alexandria this week. Northam stopped by Pacers Running in Old Town, and afterward met with Cardona, Mayor Justin Wilson, National Education Association of the United States President Becky Pringle and Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane at Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School. Cardona was at the school as part of his “Help is Here” school reopening tour.
On Monday, demolition started at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, and Alexandria City Public Schools says that the completion date is still on schedule for the new school to reopen the school in Jan. 2023. In the meantime, MacArthur students will continue to use the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.
There was big news for Alexandria nonprofits this week, as the Spring2ACTion fundraiser raised $2.5 million and broke last year’s online giving record.
There were also 682 votes in this week’s poll on outdoor dining and takeout. We asked whether the city should keep its expanded restaurant offerings after in a post-COVID environment. An overwhelming majority of 84% of votes cast (576 votes) want businesses to enjoy the same level of latitude; 13% (89 votes) said some modifications should be made and just 2% (17 votes) want businesses to go back to pre-pandemic operations.
- Incumbent delegate and Alexandria vice mayor square off in unique 45th District race
- Bryan Porter running unopposed for third term as Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney
- Police investigate string of commercial burglaries in the West End
- NEW: Alexandria shifts to open scheduling for COVID-19 vaccine
- Scholarship Fund of Alexandria raises $450K in annual gala
- Man robbed at gunpoint in West End
- NEW: Alexandria Courthouse reopening to public on May 3
- New rooftop restaurant could be coming to the waterfront
- Alexandria man arrested for firing gun at 7-Eleven door near Braddock Road Metro station
- D.C. man arrested after 130 mph chase leads to crash on Interstate 495
- Parking issues plague Potomac Yard, city looks to create residential parking district
- Update: Four arrested, suspect’s mother among wounded in West End shootout
- NOW: Alexandria preparing new face mask ordinance as CDC says fully vaccinated folks don’t need them
- Alexandria celebrates Earth Day virtually
- COVID-19 Update: City says anyone who registered by April 10 for COVID-19 vaccine should have an appointment
- Police: Falling death of man in Landmark does not appear to be suspicious
- Del Ray restaurant The Garden to bloom into new outdoor area
- Parents and students protest for expanded in-person instruction outside ACPS Central Office
- JUST IN: ‘Open ACPS!’ group to rally in front of Central Office on Monday
- Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
- EXCLUSIVE: Here’s what the inside of the Halal slaughterhouse looks like on Colvin Street
- School Resource Officers at ACPS on chopping block as Police chief proposes alternative program
Have a safe weekend!
Ada’s On The River chef envisions opening his own restaurant someday — “Though it just opened in January of this year, Ada’s On The River in Alexandria’s Old Town has already become the subject of laudatory profiles in national publications and dubbed as one of the best restaurants in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. The reason? Ada’s secret weapon: Chef Randall Matthews.” [Essence]
Alexandria residents arrested in D.C. protest Sunday — “Police on Sunday said Steve Chang, 28, of no fixed address; Michael Klaus, 51, of Alexandria; and Adam Cunningham, 25, of Capitol Heights were arrested and accused of assault on a police officer and possession of a destructive device. Police said the devices included Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks. A male 15-year-old from Alexandria also was arrested and accused of assault on a police officer, possession of a destructive device and possession of a prohibited weapon, which authorities said was an ax.” [Washington Post]
Police play with kids in Old Town — “A little competition and a lot of laughter. APD officers Vanderah, Coddington and Plisco enjoyed some quality time with the kids in the Old Town Commons community on Sunday afternoon!” [Twitter]
Today’s weather — “A few clouds early, otherwise mostly sunny. High around 85F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph… Partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 64F. Winds SW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]
New job: Pool snack bar attendant — “Mount Vernon Country Club is currently seeking part-time pool grill attendants. The pool is open 7 days per week for Members and Guests (weather permitting) from Memorial Day through Labor Day. This is the perfect summer job for local high school students and/or recent graduates. Schedule for this position will vary from week to week. The right candidate is outgoing, friendly, and able to multi-task in a busy food-service environment.” [Indeed]
Low-income residents at Southern Towers (4901 Seminary Road) in the West End have been among those most affected by historic highs in unemployment and a sluggish economic recovery — but on-top of this, many of the residents face a new problem: a landlord pursuing hundreds of evictions.
At a meeting today between residents and elected officials, several immigrants living one of the city’s few remaining bastions of market rate affordable housing shared a sense of uncertainty and fear as new landlord CIM Group begins taking legal actions against residents.
“I used to work full time job, my husband worked two jobs,” said Betelihem Kebede, a resident at Southern Towers. “We had no problem paying rent, but during the pandemic, I lost my job and my husband lost both his jobs. To pay rent, we used up our savings. My husband took some part time jobs to still pay rent. It was hard but we were still trying to pay rent. We’re trying to think of our kids’ future, but we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. We’re still fighting.”
A report prepared by Chris Bohner, a researcher with Radish LLC, showed that Southern Towers owner CIM has taken residents to court on eviction proceedings 541 times since August 2020, when CIM acquired the property. Bohner’s findings indicate that CIM is leading in eviction proceedings among Alexandria landlords over the last few months.
The proceedings have taken place despite a moratorium on evictions, and Bohner said that’s shown no signs of slowing down.
“Yesterday, there were 20 Southern Towers cases scheduled for court,” Bohner said.
Bohner said his findings were based on information from the Alexandria District Court. The number doesn’t represent the total number of residents affected, which is harder to pin down. Several are repeated proceedings against the same households — Bohner estimated there were over 200 distinct cases — but most cases were directed at families living in units rather than individual persons.
Several state and city elected representatives — including House of Delegates Majority Leader Charniele Herring– were on the virtual call. Some highlighted efforts being undertaken to help relieve the impending eviction issues, but others noted that the effort to force residents out of the complex likely isn’t accidental in the context of anticipated higher housing prices with Amazon’s impending arrival.
“You’re talking over 600 people out of about 4,000 residents,” Bohner said. “And of course the evictions have the impact of intimidating the other residents as well. The evictions proceedings are happening despite the eviction moratorium. They know they can’t evict for a little while longer.”
Bohner presented the findings on a call put together by African Communities Together and residents of the complex earlier today. The call also included elected representatives and residents of Southern Towers.
Residents said recent unemployment has made it difficult for families to pay their bills.
“I used to work three jobs, and I lost all of them during the pandemic,” said Sami Bourma, a resident of Southern Towers originally from Sudan. “I’m a father with three kids. I talked to the landlords and was told I had to figure out a way to pay rent. Then they stated to threaten us and send us letters.”
Bourma said he was among those who was hopeful new ownership of the property could help turn around a relationship so combative that residents launched protests against management last year. But if anything, Bourma said the situation has gotten worse, and others said management is harder to get in touch with now.
Ikram Meskaoui, a resident in the building, said despite promises that owners would work with residents on rental payment, management was difficult to contact and wouldn’t respond to resident communications. ALXnow called CIM Group but was directed to a line that had a full voicemail.
City Council member Canek Aguirre said city leadership was concerned by the eviction proceedings and said businesses coming into Alexandria have an obligation to be good neighbors and good community members.
Delegate Mark Levine said residents should talk to community organizers and make sure they don’t do anything like default or ignore eviction notices.
“I’m heartbroken to hear about what’s going on,” said City Councilman Mo Seifeldein, who said that he lived at Southern Towers for ten years. “You’re going to see this turn into luxurious apartments as part of gentrification of the West End. If you look at other apartments in the area you begin to see the full picture. You’re likely not going to see much protection other than minimal effort. This requires more pressure on elected officials.”
It was a short, but news-filled week in Alexandria.
With Monday off in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we started the week running with a COVID-19 update. Cases of COVID-19 in the city now stand at 8,975 and fatalities are at 99. That’s an increase of three deaths and 165 cases since Tuesday, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
Our top story this week was a story that was published before election day in November, when residents with Joe Biden for president signs in their yards received anonymous letters stating that Biden is a pedophile.
Our second most-read story was the widely reported plans to close Atlantis Pizzeria and Family Restaurant.
Wednesday, Jan. 20, brought worldwide attention to Alexandria’s neighboring jurisdiction of Washington D.C. for Biden’s inauguration, and while there were calls from members of the community for a 6 p.m. curfew, there were no reported incidents from protestors in Alexandria.
In fact, Alexandria Sheriff’s deputies and police officers helped during the inauguration by working with regional partners to shut down the 14th Street Bridge to traffic.
In case you missed them, here are a few important posts:
- BREAKING: Body Found in the Water Near Cameron Station
- Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson Announces Reelection Bid
- Winter Restaurant Week Starts This Friday
- City Council Endorses Police Review Board Option, Plan Going Out for Community Review
- Initial Unemployment Claims Surge in Alexandria
Here are our top stories of the week:
- Alexandrians with Joe Biden Yard Signs Get Anonymous Letters Saying Biden is a Pedophile
- Atlantis Pizzeria and Family Restaurant Closing on Jan. 24
- New Boarding House Planned Over Old Town Barber Shop
- Man Charged With DWI After Horrific Crash in West End Parking Lot
- Contested Parker-Gray Townhouse Returns to City Tomorrow
- Police Chief: Many Recent Shootings in Alexandria Are Related
- Curfew Not Likely for Alexandria on Inauguration Day, No Known Threats Detected
- BREAKING: Woman Gets Arm Amputated, Police Investigate if She Was Thrown From Car in West End
- Vice Mayor Bennett-Parker Asks Alexandria Hotels to Cancel ‘Proud Boy’ Reservations
- Local Business in Hot Water with City Architects After Unauthorized Paint Job
- COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Expanded, City Says Aggressive Calls to COVID-19 Hotline Not Tolerated
Have a safe weekend!
Photo via Atlantis Restaurant/Facebook
An Alexandria hotel faced some public scrutiny for housing Proud Boys and other right wing factions before the Capitol Hill riot, but now the Holiday Inn Alexandria-Carlyle is facing pressure from elected leadership to cancel reservations for identified extremists.
Alexandria Vice-Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker sent a letter to the hotels asking them to cancel reservations for guests who publicly identify with one of the extremist groups reportedly planning to gather between Sunday, Jan. 17 and Wednesday, Jan. 20 to disrupt the inauguration of Joe Biden as President.
Yesterday, Airbnb announced that it would cancel all reservations in D.C. as security tightens for the inauguration events. HotelTonight reservations are also being cancelled. In December, a D.C. hotel that served as a rallying point for Proud Boys closed during a planned rally, leaving some of the group’s plans in disarray.
Photo via Google Maps