Thursday, October 15, 2009

From the Archives of Justice

There's some good news lately for those of us living near public housing.

The Growler has learned that serious crime at ARHA projects such as James Bland and Andrew Adkins is trending down.

Nuisance crimes such as drunkenness and disorderly conduct are also taking a dive.

While drug offenses are up sharply, it appears this is due to Alexandria cops more aggressively detecting offenses and charging suspects.

All in all, our police force is to be congratulated for taking the community's concerns seriously.

While we applaud the police force for their effectiveness, the neighborhood also deserves a big pat on the back for its vigilant watch over crime and and for courage in speaking up to demand that City officials do more to curb disorder in Parker-Gray.

But it hasn't been easy to speak out publicly. A small group of citizens, self-anointed public housing advocates, have been sharply vocal about those of us who stand up and tell elected officials and the police about the crime we witness with our own eyes in the neighborhood. This group leverages shrillness and the race card to intimidate City Council and to intimidate us as a community.

So effective has the technique been in the past, it has now been honed to a fine point. While Councils in the past may have resisted some of this pressure, the controversy over the apologetic public remarks a few elected officials made last spring before the election illustrates that some of the current members find that hard to do.

However, it's about time to give Council some facts that may give them more strength to resist the screech crowd. Some of the information below is well-known to natives and old-timers in Alexandria, but may come as a shock to our current officials, who are mostly transplanted from elsewhere.

Sarah Becker's Old Town Crier article last month raised eyebrows with the sentence about the "questionable" supporters of ARHA Chairman A. Melvin Miller. There was good reason: it turns out many in the screech crowd have had significant brushes with the law themselves.

Like the aged woman who was charged back in 1977 with assault and battery on an Alexandria Gazette reporter. She was found guilty of the misdemeanor in District Court, but then acquitted on appeal to the Circuit Court (with helpful testimony from another member of the screech crowd).

What prompted this attack? In 1977 fierce discussions were underway about a City takeover of the perennially-dysfunctional ARHA. In that era, the Gazette provided deeper and harder-hitting local reportage than it does now, and its employee was covering ARHA and working on a story about residents who earned too much income to remain eligible for subsidized housing.

In a footnote, years later this individual was evicted by ARHA. She has not lived in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years.

The Growler has learned that another prominent figure in the screech crowd was charged by a grand jury with grand larceny and embezzlement. The charge involved stealing from an elderly man, and the case required Social Services staff to be subpoenaed to testify. So frail was this victim that a transcript of his testimony was necessary, and the Commonwealth's Attorney ultimately dropped the charges when the principal witness died.

The screecher in question does not live in our neighborhood.

Then we have a well-known figure and current resident who has stood up at community meetings and verbally abused police officers like Sgt. Gerald Ford, the respected former resident officer at James Bland. Incredibly, this man was given an impromptu forum by City consultants Kramer & Associates to stand up at one of the Braddock Road plan charrettes in 2007 and lecture the audience on local history (of which he seemed to know little beyond polemics).

There was considerable chuckling back in the neighborhood among the old-timers when they learned about the incident. Not only had this man been gone from the neighborhood for decades (living at times in D.C., Maryland and Fairfax County), he also had accumulated a criminal record. D.C. court records indicate two previous drug charges — one in 1986 and another in 1991.

What is inexpressibly sad is that at the same day-long Braddock Road charrette two older African-American women plucked up their courage to attend to try to tell someone in charge about crime at Bland. None of the staff bothered to make reassurances or even point them to the police officer present at the meeting. What kind of message were they receiving when City staff propped up a criminal to pontificate about the neighborhood?

It must be asked why the City continues to favor people like this at the expense of law-abiding citizens who have never seen the inside of a jail or courtroom. Why are those who live outside our neighborhood (and in some cases outside the City of Alexandria) allowed to dictate and lecture about any aspect of a community where they no longer live or left for decades while others dealt with the consequences? In fact, are some of these players really advocates for residents or are they self-interested individuals who have family members in public housing or are themselves dependent on ARHA and can be mobilized at will to thwart further reforms? Are others attempting to wheedle money or position from the City government in their self-appointed leadership roles?

The most important question of all is why City staff — especially leaders in Planning & Zoning — are indulging this crowd and giving them forums from which they can harass and intimidate elected officials?