2023 News & Media

National NAACP Support for DOJ Investigation into Arlington County Sheriff’s Office In-Custody Deaths

ARLnow, December 18, 2023

Today, via written letter, the National General Counsel for the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization formally calls on the Department of Justice to conduct an independent pattern and practice investigation into the Arlington County Detention Facility. Nine people have lost their lives at the Arlington County Detention Center in the last eight years with two of those deaths occurring within the last four months. After deaths 6 and 7, former long time Sheriff Beth Arthur defended the culture at the jail saying they provide first class medical care, and the deaths are not negligent, despite state officials finding the same sheriff in violations of regulations. 

NAACP Arlington Branch wants Justice Dept. probe of county jail

GazetteLeader December 14, 2023

The NAACP Arlington Branch has reacted to news of a new in-custody death at the Arlington County Detention Facility by reiterating its call for the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation of cases and of the facility.

Nine people have lost their lives at the county detention center in the last eight years, and this death marks the second in-custody death within the previous four months, NAACP officials said.

NAACP's Freedom Fund banquet serves as a clarion call for action

GazetteLeader, November 2, 2023

Back in person for the first time since COVID struck, the Arlington NAACP’s 76th Freedom Fund banquet represented a call to action on a number of issues. The event was held Oct. 14 at George Mason University’s Arlington campus, with the program overseen by NAACP branch president Michael Hemminger. “There is nothing we cannot accomplish when we are united around a common cause moving the line forward for everyone,” Hemminger said. “All this advocacy has changed lives – we have a lot to be proud of.” Symone Sanders-Townsend delivered keynote remarks under the theme “Never Silenced.”

She came to the U.S. to save her kids. Fentanyl may have killed one

Washington Post, by Theresa Vargas, October 11, 2023

“We are devastated to lose another Latino student due to an opioid overdose,” reads a joint statement put out by the Virginia branches of the NAACP and LULAC (the League of United Latin American Citizens) after Rodriguez’s death. “The fentanyl crisis is wreaking havoc on the Latino communities of Arlington, claiming multiple lives and tearing our families apart.” The statement calls on county leaders and officials to take “decisive steps to combat this deadly epidemic today to save lives.” Among the demands: equitable mental health services; access to youth addiction, treatment and prevention programs; and reimagined after-school activities.

Two charged after girls suffer fentanyl overdose at Wakefield High School, police say

CBS 9 WUSA, by Samantha Gilstrap, Katie Lusso, October 3, 2023

These arrests come after two students died from suspected overdoses at the same school this past year, says the NAACP Arlington Branch.

APS, teachers and community members say work remains to tackle high suspension rates among certain students

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, September 27, 2023

Black and Hispanic students remain more likely to be suspended from Arlington Public Schools than their peers, according to new data. Specifically, Black students make up 11% of students yet 30% of suspensions, while Hispanic students make up 30% of the population and 45% of suspensions, per a presentation to the Arlington School Board yesterday (Tuesday). Meanwhile, students with disabilities and those learning English are also over-represented in suspension rates. APS says they are, respectively, 2.5 and 1.5 times more likely to be suspended than their counterparts.

9th grade student at Wakefield High dies after suspected overdose, NAACP says

CBS 9 WUSA, September 26, 2023

This is the second student to die from a suspected overdose at the same high school this year, according to the NAACP Arlington Branch.

'Exclusionary Zoning' Discussed At NAACP Candidates Forum In Arlington

Patch, by Mark Hand, September 19, 2023

With Arlington residents continuing to debate the effects of the county's new Missing Middle zoning ordinance, housing issues were a major topic of discussion at the NAACP Arlington Branch's candidates forum Monday night.

Arlington Grad Helps Teens Stay Tuned Into Hard-To-Find Opportunities

Patch, by Mark Hand, September 12, 2023

A 2023 graduate of Wakefield High School in Arlington spent the summer working with the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington as part of an internship sponsored by Bank of America, culminating with her helping to organize the YMCA’s Thingamajig Invention Convention. Yabsera Negussie, who is beginning her first year at Dartmouth College and is majoring in neuroscience and business, worked with Home Depot to get materials needed for students to participate in the 29th annual Thingamajig Invention Convention. For example, she was able to secure $50 vouchers from Home Depot for students, helping to make the convention a more equitable event.

A restrictive covenant used to block a duplex also barred non-white people from buying or renting it

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, September 8, 2023

Using the covenant against multifamily housing appears to be a valid workaround for neighbors and Arlington County says it has no legal role in how these covenants are used between private parties. The county began approving 2-6 unit homes in previously single-family-only neighborhoods two months ago, but this is the first instance ARLnow knows of where such a document was used in this way. Their use, however, resituates one of the initial reasons Arlington County said it embarked on the housing policy changes in the first place: to right historical wrongs caused by racism. It provoked the ire of some Missing Middle advocates, including the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which is calling on the county to address the issue. “The whites-only restriction can’t be disentangled from the one-house restriction; they were meant to work together, with the purpose and effect of excluding people of color,” said Wells Harrell, the chair of the housing committee of the NAACP, in a statement. “It is profoundly disappointing to see restrictive covenants from the Jim Crow era being invoked to block new housing and exclude families today.” 

The unseen crisis behind a 73-year-old unhoused woman’s death in jail

Washington Post, by Theresa Vargas, September 6, 2023

Woldegeorges was the eighth person to die while in custody of the jail in as many years. Five of the eight people who died, ArlNow reported, were homeless. And all eight deaths were experienced by people of color, Michael Hemminger, president of the NAACP Arlington Branch, noted in a statement that described the deaths as occurring at an “alarming rate.”

NAACP says Arlington jail inmates are ‘dying at an alarming rate’

WTOP, by Nick Iannelli, August 29, 2023

Eight people have died in the Arlington County, Virginia, jail over the past eight years, leading to new concerns from community activists. The latest person to die while in custody was Abonesh Woldegeorges, 73, who was found unresponsive in her cell on Sunday morning. Woldegeorges was arrested and taken to jail earlier this month, accused of trespassing at Reagan National Airport. “Our primary concern is around Arlington County criminalizing homelessness and Arlington County’s inability to care for those that need help the most,” said Michael Hemminger, president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP.

73-Year-Old Woman Dies In Arlington Jail, The Eighth Death In 8 Years

DCist, by Margaret Barthel, August 28, 2023

Last year, the Arlington branch of the NAACP called for a federal civil rights investigation into the jail. The group spoke out again following the news of Waldegeorges’ death. “It’s unimaginable that a 73-year-old woman being held on trespassing charges would ultimately lose her life while in custody. Unfortunately, we have seen a pattern and practice of blatant disregard for basic care at the Arlington County jail and it is leading to deaths at an alarming rate,” said Michael Hemminger, the group’s president, in a news release. Hemminger said county leadership and the sheriff’s office have “failed to properly address the root problem” behind the in-custody deaths. The NAACP also noted that the deaths in the jail disproportionately affect people of color, particularly Black people, because Black people are policed and arrested at vastly higher rates in the county. Arlington’s population is 9% Black, but the jail population is often close to two-thirds Black.

Arlington abandoned ranked choice voting, which is a good thing 

Richmond Times-Dispatch, by Trent England, August 22, 2023

The Arlington NAACP recognized the risks of RCV. The group announced it would closely monitor the election to ensure that “no one’s foundational right to vote (was) disenfranchised or impeded.” Arlington County now joins the ranks of localities that have tried RCV only to reject it. In fact, RCV is an old idea. Many American cities implemented it about a century ago, and every single one repealed it.

Missing Middle Opponents Doubt Zoning Change's Impact On NoVA Sprawl

Patch, by Mark Hand, August 3, 2023

Several environmental groups, led by the local chapter of the Sierra Club, were among the strongest supporters of Arlington County’s Missing Middle Housing Plan, arguing that creating higher-density housing in areas of the county zoned for single-family homes would help to reduce suburban sprawl in Northern Virginia. The Sierra Club joined the YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, Arlington Chamber of Commerce, the Arlington chapter of the NAACP, The Alliance for Housing Solutions, Arlington Young Democrats and other groups to lobby the Arlington County Board to adopt the Missing Middle Housing proposal.

Virginia’s first ranked-choice election is vexing some Arlington voters

Washington Post, by Teo Armus, July 19, 2023

Arlington NAACP President Mike Hemminger echoed those concerns, writing in a statement that the lack of outreach prompted “a series of grave concerns from our community.” He said his group would be monitoring ranked-choice to ensure “no one’s foundational right to vote becomes disenfranchised or impeded.”

Arlington County Board punts on ranked-choice voting for November election 

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, July 17, 2023 

Arlington branch of the NAACP Political Action Committee Chair Janmarie Peña said the county should not move forward until it increases outreach to diverse voters. “If you’d like to get a true sense of the public opinion on RCV for decision making, please make a sincere effort to gather the perspectives of all residents, especially Black and [Latino] residents whose voices are all too often marginalized in this community,” she said. For proof the county did not do that, she cited the results of a county survey after the primary. Most respondents were white, home-owning voters and older than 60.

Arlington County’s Ranked Choice Voting Experiment Is Over For Now

DCist, Martin Austermuhle, July 17, 2023

Informal surveys conducted by the county’s election office found that many residents understood how ranked choice voting worked and were satisfied with how the primary was conducted, but negative perceptions were higher among older residents, as well as Black and Latino ones. Janmarie Pena, a member of the Arlington County branch of the NAACP, said that confusion over how voting and vote-counting took place seemed highest among minority communities. “I’m concerned the lack of outreach and education on ranked choice voting possibly served to discourage voters, especially Black and Latino voters. I’m concerned that the county can’t engage in the robust outreach and education necessary to give all voters full confidence in this voting method before the coming election,” she said. “I had heard from friends about how the complexity of understanding how the winner was chosen… was making them think twice about voting.” 

A first-time home buying program faces headwinds from Arlington’s hot real estate market

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, July 6, 2023

“MIPAP is an anemic program and represents a significant underinvestment in helping Arlington residents successfully transition to homeownership,” says Kellen MacBeth, a housing policy advocate and member of the Arlington branch of the NAACP. “Homeownership offers unique opportunities to bridge the racial wealth gap and we need to step up county support for residents, especially residents of color, looking to become homeowners.” 

Maureen Coffey, Susan Cunningham win Democratic nomination in tight Arlington County Board race

WAMU, by Margaret Barthel, June 26, 2023

DeRosa credited what she called an “outstanding push” from Arlington elections officials and ranked choice voting advocates to educate voters about the new voting method. Previously, the local NAACP raised concerns about the outreach process after the county backed away from a previously proposed $50,000 allocation to fund the effort. (Arlington elections officials said the state Department of Elections had stepped in, obviating the need for spending the local money.)

Seven years after speaking out, a few residents of an affordable housing building say problems persist

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, May 31, 2023

“There’s a clear power dynamic here,” says Mike Hemminger, who sits on the Housing Commission and is president of the Arlington branch of the NAACP. “Folks that are living in committed affordable units shouldn’t have to face the full weight or strength of county government to fix their water bill,” he continued. “They shouldn’t have to come to the Housing Commission or the Tenant-Landlord Commission to raise the issue."

Kaine introduces legislation to rename Robert E. Lee Memorial

Potomac Local News, by Amelia Breeden, June 24, 2023

Office of Congressman Don Beyer: “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) today announced the introduction of bicameral legislation to redesignate the National Historic Site known as ‘Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial’ to its original name ‘Arlington House.'” Arlington House had been used in the Arlington County logo until 2021 when the county dumped its old logo in favor of a new one after the NAACP said it should in 2020. The historic site can be found at 321 Sherman Drive, Fort Myer.

NAACP Arlington: tree equity is 'a matter of life and death'

ABC7 News, by Christian Flores, May 21, 2023

With Black communities disproportionately affected by serious asthma-related health issues, the NAACP Arlington Branch is looking to plant the seeds of change in tree equity. Branch President Michael Hemminger said there is a significant disparity in the number of trees in Black communities compared to White communities, which plays a role in why Black people are more likely to suffer severe complications with respiratory illnesses like asthma.

Ranked-choice voting education campaign is underway but Arlington NAACP says more needs to be done

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, May 19, 2023

Six months ago, the Arlington County Board adopted ranked-choice voting for the upcoming Democratic primary. Since then, the Arlington elections office has been busy educating anyone who asks on the method, which only applies to candidates for County Board. The Arlington branch of the NAACP, however, says the county needs to step up its outreach to ensure all voters are prepared when they cast early ballots or go to the polls on June 20. ARLnow, for instance, has heard from some residents who are unsure or skeptical of how votes will be counted. “We have directly heard a series of grave concerns from our community regarding the implementation of this significant change,” NAACP President Mike Hemminger said in a statement. “We will be monitoring this change with intense focus in the run up to and after the election to ensure that no one’s foundational right to vote becomes disenfranchised or impeded in Arlington County.”

Arlington nonprofit, NAACP team up to plant trees in county

DC News Now, by Max Marcilla, May 18, 2023

Where you live might impact how long you live. That’s true in many places, including Arlington County. Now, there’s a move to address that. The Arlington Branch of the NAACP is giving $60,000 to EcoAction Arlington with the goal of planting trees in specifically-selected neighborhoods. “Arlington has a 10-year life expectancy difference amongst its neighborhoods, and this donation will create focus and provide much-needed tree canopy in places that have, for decades, been left out of the conversation,” said NAACP Branch President Michael Hemminger said in a statement.

Will ‘Missing Middle’ Housing Fix Arlington’s Affordability Problem?

Arlington Magazine, by Helen Partridge, April 17, 2023 

Today, most of Arlington’s single-family neighborhoods are more than 70% White, according to county data. (White people represent 58.5% of the county population, but some would argue the reason Arlington is predominantly White is because fewer people of color can afford to live here.) “We believe that expanded housing means expanding the opportunities for people of color, lower-income folks and people traditionally left out of the power dynamics that have been in place across the country, not just solely Arlington County,” says Bryan Coleman, second vice president and Housing Committee chair for the NAACP Arlington Chapter.

After Bruising Debate, Arlington Passes ‘Missing Middle’ Zoning Change

DCist, by Margaret Barthel, March 23, 2023

“For the first time in almost a century, the County Board took direct action to reverse exclusionary zoning in our county,” said Mike Hemminger, who leads the Arlington chapter of the NAACP, in an interview immediately after the vote. “I’m over the moon. I’m ecstatic.” While the zoning ordinance change takes effect this summer, how and when the new impacts of the change will play out in the local housing market and in Arlington residential neighborhoods is not entirely clear. The zoning change is a market-based reform; it allows developers or current homeowners to create multi-unit buildings on lots as they become available.

To build more ‘missing middle’ housing, the devil is in the details

Washington Post, by Teo Armus, March 16, 2023

The Arlington chapter of the NAACP, one of several civic groups that have backed the “missing middle” plan, argued that a tighter limit on the maximum number of units would only further enable “unequal housing opportunities” in single-family neighborhoods that for decades kept out people of color. It has brought in the NAACP’s national general counsel to question the January vote.

Local NAACP leaves CivFed amid fallout over resolution to improve confidence in county government

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, March 15, 2023

“A few years ago, the NAACP joined CivFed in a good faith attempt to assist the organization evolve, transform and grow; however, our organizational mission, vision, and values don’t seem to align well,” NAACP President Mike Hemminger said in an email shared with ARLnow. “We wish the CivFed the very best in the future.” He said the NAACP has appreciated the chance to engage with members in recent years. “Our sincere prayer is that your organization will one day accomplish the diversity, equity, inclusion and sense of belonging that so many are craving from leader organizations in the community,” he said.

Family Explores Legal Action After Student Forced to Pick Cotton in Class

NBC 4, by Derrick Ward, March 3, 2023

“There was eight or seven other games on the list, and the teacher could pick out whatever game they wanted, and this specific teacher chose that game,” said Sidney’s mother, Keisha Kirkland. It was intended to be a fun, camaraderie-building exercise, but NAACP attorney Phillip Thompson says without historical context, it has the opposite effect of building camaraderie. “They shouldn’t be dealing anything with cotton and African American kids unless you’re talking about slavery and the impact of the cotton industry on slavery,” he said.

Civic Federation resolution on civic engagement deferred again

GazetteLeader, February 22, 2023

Sometimes, punting isn’t such a bad idea. In fact, it often can be the only viable option. After spending more than two hours wrangling over procedural steps while barely touching the substance, Arlington County Civic Federation delegates on Feb. 21 deferred, for a month, action on a contentious resolution related to Arlington governance.

Arlington Public Schools takes cotton picking game off school's list, family demands more

ABC 13 WSET, by Christian Flores, February 19, 2023

After this opening statement by Duran, the NAACP Arlington branch called out the district during the public comment period. NAACP Arlington Education Committee Chair Tia Alfred said the district has not gone far enough to hold the long-term substitute teacher accountable. "An 8th-grade student was asked to participate in an activity that involved picking cotton," Alfred said. Despite his mother's attempts to speak with APS about the harmful impact of this so-called game, the teacher adamantly refused to acknowledge the validity of the student's pain, and intentionally caused additional harm the next day by humiliating him in front of his peers." Alfred continued: "We expect immediate accountability. That means all parties involved in the violation of his civil rights be held accountable instead of passing the buck."

NAACP demands accountability from APS after Black student forced to pick cotton in game

ABC 7 WJLA, by Christian Flores, February 15, 2023

Arlington Branch President Mike Hemminger told 7News the organization also was confused by the statements provided by Arlington Public Schools. "Our branch was in contact with the family. We heard directly from Ms. Kirkland. Your initial video did a good job of expressing that pain and trauma. We heard some additional pain and trauma that that family is working through in this moment," Hemminger said. "There's been some inconsistencies with information that came out of APS. There's been some irregularities, some contradictions. And unfortunately, some of that information is causing additional harm to the family." Hemminger continued: "She feels like she is being misled. There has been an extreme breakdown in communication."

Here’s how “missing middle” homes can tackle high housing costs and traffic in Arlington County

Greater Greater Washington, by Jason Schwartz, February 21, 2023

While there has been much debate on this subject, it is clear that legalizing missing middle housing across the county will provide a net benefit for Arlington and the DC region as a whole. The expanded housing options will end exclusionary zoning, which has its origins in racial segregation, allow denser development that is more sustainable and less polluting than suburban sprawl, and allow for homes that fit more sizes and types of families, all while being more attainable. Organizations that support the Missing Middle housing proposal include the YIMBYs of NoVA (with which I volunteer), the Arlington Branch of the NAACP, the Sierra Club Potomac River Group, Virginia Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), the League of Women Voters Arlington/Alexandria Chapter, the Alliance for Housing Solutions, and more.

The US needs more affordable housing — where to put it is a bigger battle

Oregon Public Broadcasting, by WAMU's Margaret Barthel, February 11, 2023

After two days of contentious public comment, Arlington's board scaled back key aspects of the plan that's now up for final consideration, in an attempt to placate opponents. It lowered the maximum number of units the board could ultimately approve from eight to six. And it added an option that would say five- to six-unit buildings could be constructed only near transit or on sites bigger than 12,000 square feet. That would mean many areas of the county would be opened just to two- to four-unit homes. THANKS TO OUR SPONSOR:Become a Sponsor The move brought condemnation from the Arlington NAACP, whose president tweeted, "This is de facto segregation and our leaders missed the mark on such a historic vote."

$1.3 million payment would settle suit over death in Arlington jail

Washington Post,  by Nick Anderson, February 4, 2023

Relatives of a man who died in the Arlington County jail and their attorney would receive about $1.3 million in exchange for dismissal of a lawsuit last year that accused jail officials and a health-care provider of responsibility for his death, according to a settlement agreement filed in federal court.

NAACP alleges current Missing Middle proposal could run afoul of fair housing laws

ARLnow, by Jo DeVoe, February 3, 2023

The Arlington branch of the NAACP — previously a champion of Arlington’s Missing Middle housing proposal — is claiming the proposal now being deliberated is in danger of violating federal and state fair housing laws. After hearing nearly 200 public speeches and convening three meetings in mid-January, the Arlington County Board approved a request to authorize hearings on proposed zoning changes that would allow small-scale multifamily buildings with up to six homes in districts zoned exclusively for single-family detached homes. In so doing, the Board removed an option to consider buildings with seven or eight units and retained an option to impose higher lot size minimums for five-plexes and six-plexes outside of major transit corridors. NAACP Arlington Branch President Mike Hemminger, Housing Committee Chair Bryan J. Coleman and Secretary Wanda Younger decried the move in a letter released yesterday (Thursday) to Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.  

Would Arlington County’s missing middle zoning plan make homes more affordable?

WAMU, by Margaret Barthel, January 20, 2023

Supporters of missing middle housing policy point to the displacement that has already happened across the county. In the long term, they see an opportunity to create some degree of socioeconomic and racial diversity in a county that has been losing it. “Unfortunately, no, we’re not going to be able to get those communities of color who were displaced from Green Valley or Halls Hill or Arlington Mills back,” says Bryan Coleman, the second vice president of the Arlington NAACP (he rents an apartment with his partner in Clarendon). “But we should be asking ourselves, what are we going to do about that in the future rather than bemoaning what happened in the past. Because we can’t change the past. We can make things, though, not only symbolically, but tangibly better for future generations.” There’s some data to support the idea that a wider variety of types of housing can lead to a more diverse community. Currently, the single-family zoned residential areas in the county have notably lower percentages of people of color (28%, on average) than areas that allow multifamily buildings (48%), according to the county.

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