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The U.S. Department of Labor has filed an administrative complaint against a janitorial government contractor operating in Alexandria for discriminating against Black and white job applicants in favor of Hispanic applicants.

The Department of Labor filed the complaint against New York-based ABM Janitorial Services on September 15, although the investigation into the contractor began in 2015. Three compliance reviews were made at ABM locations — one in Baltimore, Maryland, and two in Alexandria in the 100 block of Claremont Avenue.

In Alexandria, the government determined that the contractor has “engaged in racially discriminatory hiring practices, failed to preserve and maintain its personnel and employment records, failed to conduct adverse impact analyses, and failed to develop an auditing system,” according to court records.

The entry-level jobs pay $10 to $11 an hour, and the minimum qualifications are being 18 years of age and having a legal right to work in the U.S.

“Many hiring managers claimed to prefer applicants with cleaning experience, but many cleaners hired (in Alexandria) lacked cleaning experience,” the complaint alleges. “The hiring managers regularly hired inexperienced Hispanic applicants for job openings while rejecting experienced Black applicants for those openings.”

The contractor’s cleaning services for the U.S. Army from 2015 to 2018 amount to more than $174 million, and it also has a $68 million contract with the General Services Administration that runs until 2023, according to court records.

The investigation also found that white applicants were discriminated against in favor of Hispanic applicants at a Baltimore location.

Despite repeated requests from the U.S. Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the government says that the company has not shown evidence that it changed its hiring practices. The complaint asks the court to cancel all of AMB Janitorial Service’s government contracts and prevent it from working with the government again until the noncompliance is remedied.

“We will work in conjunction with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs to ensure that federal contractors administer their federal contracts without discriminating against applicants and employees,” said U.S. Labor Department Solicitor Seema Nanda in a statement. “We will continue to use all available resources to ensure every applicant can seek employment free of discrimination and bias, and when we find evidence of discrimination we will pursue these alleged violations in court.”

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Morning Notes

Video shows married gay couple facing down deluge of anti-gay, anti-Asian slurs — “Neighbors say they’ve never heard anything like it anywhere. Vile anti-gay slurs caught on a Ring camera hurled at a gay couple in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. Anti-Asian slurs too. All in a long-simmering dispute over a back alley parking space. The white couple caught on tape insist they’re not anti-gay or anti-Asian, but the language is pretty rough.” [WUSA9]

Little Free Pantry opens outside Charles Houston Recreation Center — “Located right next to the rec center, with a fresh coat of blue paint and packed full of everything from peanuts to fajita kits, the new Little Free Pantry is the culmination of five years of work for Old Town resident Hope Nelson. Little Free Pantries, which allow residents to donate as much as they want and take as much as they need, have sprung up across the country as part of a grassroots movement to provide short-term solutions for food insecurity.” [Alex Times]

Apothecary Museum celebrating Harry Potter’s birthday on July 31 — “In honor of Harry Potter’s birthday, Alexandria’s Apothecary Museum is offering a special tour for families that will explore the old Apothecary and the historic muggle medicines that inspired the Herbology and Potions of Harry’s world.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 96F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph… A few clouds [in the evening]. Low near 75F. Winds SSW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Apprentice general manager — “Chipotle is growing fast – we’re opening a restaurant every two days and we need leaders to grow with us! Our Apprentices assist in the day-to-day operations of our restaurants – learning what it takes to run a strong business, hire and train great people, and grow our company.” [Indeed]

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It’s a different world than when Jacqueline Tucker started work in Alexandria.

Tucker started her job as the city’s first-ever racial and social equity officer in February 2020, and in the months that followed the pandemic and social unrest shook the city to its core.

“It’s a completely different world,” Tucker told ALXnow. “I think that at a minimum that our awareness and consciousness is raised.”

After overseeing racial and social equity training for approximately a third of the city’s workforce, Tucker is offering training to residents for the first time in the 30-Day Racial Equity Challenge. The four-part program started last month, and every day participants complete short assignments, like watching a TED Talk or taking an implicit bias test. The goal is for participants to walk away with a broader understanding of racial bias in the community.

The weekly conversation on the program continues in a Zoom conversation at noon on Wednesday, June 30.

The four-week program is being done in partnership with ACT for Alexandria, and currently has about 30 participants (with 80 signed up) focusing on history, micro aggressions, systemic and institutional racism and what they can do about it.

“It’s designed to be sort of a primer for scratching the very tip of a surface on some of the main issues related to race and equity,” Tucker said.

The format is slightly different than what’s offered to city employees. So far, all 700 Department of Community and Human Services staffers have received initial training from the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, in addition to all city department heads. That training mostly focuses on government’s role in systemic and institutional bias and racism, and each department has an equity team focused on training their staff.

Tucker’s next step is creating an “opportunity map or an equity index map” to show disparities within communities on a public dashboard.

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In a victory for civil rights, the marquee for Alexandria City High School was unveiled Wednesday morning, replacing the old sign bearing the name of T.C. Williams High School.

It’s been nearly a year since the effort to change the name of Virginia’s largest high school began. The new name will go into effect July 1, as will the official renaming of Matthew Maury Elementary School to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

“I think this is a great step towards equity,” rising junior Miracle Gross said. “This year more than any I learned what he really stood for and why our community is against it.”

T.C. Williams High School gained international fame for the ‘Remember The Titans‘ film, which depicted the newly integrated Alexandria football players winning the 1971 state championship by bridging racial divides. Ironically, the school itself was named after a staunch racist superintendent who spent years actively working against integrating the school system.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the day would go down in history, and that the school mascot will remain the Titans.

“Once a Titan always a Titan,” Hutchings told the audience of students, administrators, parents and former graduates. “We are proud of our diversity and we realize that that name, Thomas Chambliss Williams, did not deserve to be honored on our only high school in the city of Alexandria.”

Wednesday was also the last day of school, and for the next three months ACPS will work to replace all of the markers with the name T.C. Williams.

“We already started to order the uniforms,” Hutchings said. “It’s going to take us some time to get through all of our marquees as well as all of the signage within the school building.”

School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said that it’s also a somber day.

“Systemic racism is something that was created with purpose and with resources attached to it,” she said. “And the staff at T.C. Williams fights it every single day.”

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What a week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week is on Gregory Elliott, a special education teacher at T.C. Williams High School. Elliot also goes by the name of “Sugar Bear” for the D.C.-based go-go band Experience Unlimited, and their song “Da’ Butt” from the Spike Lee movie “School Daze” was featured at the Oscars, along with actress Glenn Close dancing to it.

This week was full of news.

City Manager Mark Jinks hinted at retiring, there was a chlorine spill at Lake Cook and the Alexandria Fire Department is contending with reports of racism, sexism and favoritism.

Additionally, a cyberattack on a gas pipeline resulted in a state of emergency throughout Virginia. We asked readers about it in our weekly poll, and out of 250 responses only 31% (78 votes) considered making alternate travel plans.

Election stories

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Go-go music star-turned Alexandria teacher ‘Sugar Bear’ in the spotlight after Oscars shoutout
  2. Landmark Mall developers to field public question in forum this week
  3. UPDATE: Woman arrested for firing gun near Alexandria Courthouse in Old Town
  4. AHDC proposes nearly 500 units of affordable housing for Arlandria
  5. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  6. Here’s which City Council candidates signed the new ‘Alexandria Constituents’ Bill of Rights’ pledge
  7. Girlfriend of murder suspect arrested for breaking into home and beating up witness
  8. Election: Stark differences as Wilson and Silberberg face off in mayoral debate
  9. Racism, sexism and favoritism reported within the Alexandria Fire Department
  10. Here’s the order that City Council candidates will appear on the ballot for the June 8 democratic primary
  11. Wilson and Silberberg clash over new challenges, old wounds, and The Golden Girls

Have a safe weekend!

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Tensions are running high within the Alexandria Fire Department, as racism, sexism and favoritism have resulted in “considerable suspicion, distrust, and loss of confidence in organizational processes, and leaders,” according to a 2020 report.

Perceptions of racism, sexism, and favoritism undercut trust in department processes including assignment, resource distribution, discipline, and promotion,” notes the 2020 Organizational Assessment Report for the Alexandria Fire Department. “Women fight a conservative mindset that has not yet disappeared. Conflict and related conditions fester until they become serious.”

Fire Chief Corey Smedley says his staff are exhausted by COVID-19, and that he is working on addressing multiple issues. He said that race relations within the department remain a work in progress, and that he continually hears negative comments against AFD academy classes that are filled with women and minorities.

“I can tell you, based on my experience, I get sometimes a few people that treat me in a certain way that isn’t what I’ve seen my caucasian counterparts be treated,” Smedley told ALXnow. “Specifically my predecessor… When there are more women and minorities in the recruitment class, I get comments about how everybody isn’t cut out for this job… We need to improve our training practices and the philosophy of training.”

Last summer, results from the annual citywide employee engagement survey were mixed, with only about 25 percent of respondents (147 AFD employees) seeing the department as a great place to work and seeing career opportunities for advancement.

According to the report, “A few participants suggested race may have been a factor in promotions of some members, some perceive that there are members who believe that personnel trained by a minority instructor may not be as capable as those taught by white training.”

All of this comes while the department undergoes a reorganization. Just days after the city made a deal on collective bargaining, AFD announced that roughly two-thirds of AFD staff are being relocated around the city.

“The department has met a new low in moral and low level of trust in senior staff,” one AFD staffer wrote. “If senior staff does not engage its employees, seek input (and listen) from people who actually do the work, and so on, we will continue to plunge further into the lowest we have ever been. There are many talented people who work here and who care; that number is rapidly shrinking by the day.”

AFD staff said that a number of issues, including racism, sexism and pay plague the department.

“Blatant racism and sexism,” an AFD employee wrote. “Pay freeze, fools in charge. How dare you hide behind covid and the bodies of dead Americans as an excuse to not provide me with a raise. The rate of inflation is roughly 2 percent a year. So in reality I’m receiving less money because my purchasing power decreases. Data is a joke.”

The reorganization, among other things, calls for shifting more than a dozen members of the technical rescue team and its resources (including the HAZMAT team and Foam Unit for flammable liquid spills and fires) to the station at Potomac Yard from Fire Station 206 at 4609 Seminary Road in the West End.

Morale has never been lower, Josh Turner, president of the Alexandria Fire Fighters Inc. and International Association of Firefighters Local 2141, told ALXnow.

“I’ve never seen morale this low in the fire department in my 11 years here,” Turner said. “People are tired. I’ve got members that are overworked. Between COVID vaccination sites and just running the normal emergencies that we run, people are tired, and they feel like their leadership isn’t looking out for them.”

AFD Chief of Staff Chris Thompson was hired in February 2020. Thompson was a recruiter for AFD for six years before his promotion, and says that he has fought against an exclusive culture where women and minorities were held back from promotion. He said that he has recruited roughly half of the department, and has gotten a lot of feedback about recruiting “the wrong people.”

“I believe that with any change there is stress,” Thompson said. “The changes that we’re making are basically a reorganization. And that’s basically moving apparatus, changing where people might have to work, changes some of the responsibilities.”

Smedley said that staff are working on 14 initiatives outlined in the report, including developing an advisory committee with employees from various divisions; developing an administrative team; creating an EMS blueprint for promotion to higher ranks; revamping communications within the department and working with the City’s race and social equity officer to develop a Departmental Equity Core Team to train staff on race and equity issues.

“I embrace diverse thoughts and opinions,” Smedley said. “I encourage people to be courageous about their convictions and about their opinion and passion. But they have to be aligned with our values.”

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Joseph McCoy was lynched at the corner of Lee Street and Cameron Street in Old Town 124 years ago today. The incident was recognized in a small ceremony Friday morning with a group of residents and Mayor Justin Wilson.

This weekend, City Hall will be lit in purple in memory of the 19-year-old McCoy, who was arrested without a warrant and then murdered on April 23, 1897. A mob of white residents stormed the Police House (now City Hall), where McCoy was being held after being accused of sexually assaulting three women. He was shot, stabbed and hanged from a lamppost.

McCoy’s death is one of two lynchings that took place in Alexandria. The other was 20-year-old Benjamin Thomas, who was shot to death and hanged the following year by a mob of residents in Old Town.

Residents are invited to a virtual lecture on lynching by historian Susan Strasser and poetry reading on Saturday at 1 p.m.

A marker was recently installed at the site. It reads:

On a lamppost at this corner on April 23, 1897, Black Alexandria teenager Joseph H. McCoy was lynched. McCoy’s white employer, Richard Lacy, alleged that McCoy had sexually assaulted his daughter. Similar accusations were routinely used against Black males to ensure domination and provoke racial terror within the African American community. McCoy was arrested without a warrant and held prisoner at the police station, located at present-day City Hall.

After multiple attacks on the station by hundreds of white men, the mob broke through McCoy’s cell door and dragged him one block to this location. They shot him several times, bludgeoned him with an ax, and hanged him. The Alexandria Gazette reported that “other indignities were heaped upon his quivering remains.” Such historically coded language suggested dismemberment, including castration, that was often inflicted on Black males who were lynched, especially in cases involving a perceived indignity to a white female.

Virginia Governor Charles O’Ferrall launched an investigation into the lynching. He laid blame on Alexandria Mayor Luther Thompson for failing to respond to repeated attacks despite knowing the mob intended to lynch McCoy. No officials or law enforcement officers were held accountable and no members of the white mob were ever arrested for McCoy’s murder. Several Black men, however, were arrested based on rumors of retaliation.

Upon viewing her nephew’s body, McCoy’s aunt declared, “As the people killed him, they will have to bury him.” At the funeral, Rev. William Gaines of Roberts Chapel proclaimed, “I trust that the time will soon come when all people will realize the fact that the same judgment which they measure to others will be measured to them at the bar of God.”

Joseph H. McCoy was buried in a pauper’s grave at Penny Hill Cemetery.

Image via Justin Wilson/Twitter

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It was another busy week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

This week, ALXnow profiled Mayor Justin Wilson and his opponent, former Mayor Allison Silberberg. The pair are facing off in the June 8 Democratic primary, and have vastly different ideas on city governance.

Alexandria Police released its 2020 crime data this week, revealing a 19% increase in Part 1 crime and 15% reduction in Nuisance crimes. ALXnow also reported a number of noteworthy crime stories, including the release of a video showing a chase suspect who died after his arrest in D.C. on April 12, and the indictment of a West End murder suspect.

This week also brought the unbelievable story of locals chasing down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray.

On the vaccine front, the Alexandria Health Department paused Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, following new concerns about potential side effects.

In school news, Alexandria City Public Schools will shift to three feet distancing in classrooms on April 26. Additionally, the School Board has started a conversation on reducing the number of members from nine to six.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: ‘Alexandria City High School’ chosen as replacement name for T.C. Williams High School
  2. JUST IN: Dr. Stephen Haering suddenly retires as director of Alexandria Health Department
  3. Southern Towers residents nervous as landlord steps up eviction proceedings
  4. Man stabbed at Old Town intersection
  5. NEW: Locals chase down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray
  6. JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident
  7. Man faces 10 years for DWI in horrific West End crash in Safeway parking lot
  8. Planning Commission approves controversial subdivision, plants potential loophole for future denial
  9. JUST IN: Video released of police arresting chase suspect who died in D.C.
  10. JUST IN: Six Alexandria Police officers put on administrative duties after chase suspect dies
  11. JUST IN: West End murder suspect faces life plus 13 years in prison

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Alexandria City Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools are investigating allegations that members of the Robinson Rams junior varsity football team spit at and made a racial slur against T.C. Williams High School football players in a game on Monday, April 5.

“Yes, I am aware of these reports,” Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “It is horrifying that our students were the victims of this abuse and assault. I have been in contact with the School Board Chair, Vice Chair and Superintendent about this incident. I have also connected with my counterpart in Fairfax County, Jeff McKay. I believe it is being investigated by both school systems and I hope it will be addressed promptly.”

The game was played at James W Robinson, Jr. Secondary School, and the Rams won 20-6, although T.C. players reportedly walked off the field in protest before the end of the fourth quarter.

ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that he is working with Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand and his team to “collaborate with the leadership of the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to address this issue and support our students.”

“I want everyone to know that we are taking this matter seriously and have been in communication with our students and coaching staff who were involved or who witnessed the incident,” Hutchings said in an email.

Hutchings continued, “These events in our schools continue to shine a light on the importance of our antiracism work at ACPS and across the nation and the need for an open dialogue about how this impacts our students and their social, emotional and academic learning. To that end, once we have developed next steps with VHSL, we will share additional communications with the ACPS community.”

The incident is the second of its kind in Fairfax County Public Schools in recent days. On March 5, members of the Marshall High School Varsity Football Team allegedly spat at and made racial slurs against their Wakefield High School opponents.

FCPS released the following statement to ALXnow:

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is aware of a number of allegations regarding the use of racially charged language and racial slurs in the past few weeks.

Our school division embraces diversity and strongly condemns hate speech and offensive, hateful language or racial intolerance of any kind on the sports fields, in school buildings or anywhere on or off school premises. We will hold anyone found to have used such language while representing any of our schools accountable for their words and actions.

FCPS will investigate any incidents thoroughly and will be taking swift and appropriate action if deemed necessary. Per Virginia High School League (VHSL) rules, players heard using such language will be ejected and suspended for additional game(s). Unsportsmanlike conduct will result in an immediate review of the game by officials and coaches.

The primary responsibilities of schools are to foster an open, respectful and inclusive learning environment for all students. We recognize that we have much work to do in our schools and will continue to strive to promote equity, sportsmanship, respect, and fair play on and off the field.

FCPS will be holding a “stand-down” meeting for all athletic teams and coaches to begin this important conversation to support student-athletes in demonstrating appropriate behaviors required to play sports in FCPS. This is not about one team versus another; it is about our responsibilities to one another as members of a community. We will do the work to come together in fair treatment and take necessary actions to ensure these efforts support inclusion both in the classrooms as well as across our athletic programs. We value each and every student and staff member, and we are committed to doing the work to ensure all are treated in this regard.

T.C. Williams High School Principal Peter Balas emailed students about the incident. He wrote that Titan Athletics Director, James Parker, and he met with the student athletes and coaches of both the varsity and junior varsity football teams. He also said that T.C. has contacted the Robinson athletics staff.

“These discussions were in response to allegations of inappropriate interactions between athletes on opposing teams at Monday night’s junior varsity football game,” Balas wrote. “Specifically, we were collecting information and statements to learn more about what happened regarding the allegations that one of our students was spat on during the game and called a racial slur.”

Balas continued, “Please rest assured that we will continue to work with our staff and students regarding this situation and that we will make sure our students are supported and protected. The work that we have been doing in our school division on becoming an anti-racist school division means that we must confront these issues head-on and be unapologetic in addressing matters around racism and racial equity.”

Photos via T.C. Williams Football Boosters/Facebook

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Kevin Harris sees himself as a man of the people, someone residents can confide in to help solve their problems.

The 40-year-old local business owner says he decided on March 1 to run for City Council as a democrat in the June 8 primary.

“My champion issue is equity,” Harris told ALXnow. “I want people to know that I’m an individual that you can connect with, that you can talk with, that you can come up to. I’m approachable and I’m relatable. I want people to feel comfortable talking with me to understand that I care, that they’ll get a real response and that I’m going to genuinely look into the matter.”

He’s the former president of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) Resident Association, and since 2003 has owned Hoop Life Inc., which teaches basketball camps, clinics, classes and after-school programs in the city and throughout Northern Virginia.

Harris lives with his wife and four children in Old Town. He’s is a native of Washington, D.C., and has lived in Alexandria for more than 25 years. He’s got a bachelor’s degree in business from Alabama State University, where he got a full athletic scholarship and was named captain of the basketball team. He later played professionally for the Dakota Wizards before starting Hoop Life, Inc. 

Harris said systemic racism persists in the city, and highlights the creation of an ARHA safety committee to meet with police as one of his achievements. The public housing community has had busy last few years worth of shots fired incidents and other criminal activity, and Harris said residents are tired of feeling powerless.

“I deal with so many individuals who work in this city who can’t afford to live and talking to them to hearing their stories, it’s just it’s just troublesome,” he said. “There was an idea and a notion from the surrounding communities that ARHA residents are almost collaborators in the criminal activity that is taking place… But all these residents from all these different properties came together to organize to one speak to the fact of trying to build a better relationship with the police department.”

Affordable housing is also one of Harris’ key issues.

“I can’t stand to see people try to take advantage of others just because they feel like they’re in a position of power,” he said. “Think about it: 90% of the city’s affordable housing is gone. There’s a lot of individuals, especially individuals of color who have moved out of the city, who can’t afford to live here any longer. There’s a sense of gentrification. You see those changes in the school system, you see those changes in business, you see those changes in the communities. Some of these areas that were predominantly African American are no longer. So, I want to make sure that things are going in the right direction and be that voice for those individuals to make sure that their needs are being met, as well as everyone else.”

Photo via Kevin Harris/Facebook

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