Since 1997 the Arlington County Human Rights Commission has been focusing its attention on efforts to reach out to the community living and working in Arlington County. The intent of this effort is to determine the needs of the community and how the Commission may address those needs. One of the approaches adopted by the Commission is to ask the community, directly, what their needs are and how the Commission may best address them. This is accomplished, among other ways, by sponsoring community forums. The Commission has been observant of data that suggests that even though Hispanics comprise 18.6 % of Arlington’s population, the volume of complaints filed does not reflect the County’s demographics. In FY 2000 National origin complaints were 13% of the total complaints filed. National origin complaints also include national origins other than Hispanic. The Commission wanted to reach out and learn what issues are of concern to this segment of our community.
A Hispanic Forum was organized and held at the Arlington Mill Community Center on June 8, 2000. The forum was well publicized by both the Spanish and English language media. The intent of the forum was to maximize participation and understand barriers and issues faced by the Hispanic community. Extensive media publicity as well as technology (simultaneous translation from Spanish to English language via headsets) was used to accomplish these goals. In addition, observers from different agencies were invited in anticipation that issues under their jurisdiction would be raised. Approximately sixty members of the community participated excluding County officials and observers. Fifteen participants signed up to speak on a variety of issues.
The following Commission members attended the forum:
James Fisher, Chair; Howard Kallem, Vice Chair; Timothy Brogan; Mary Good; and Stephan Kline
Observers represented the following agencies:
Arlington County’s Commonwealth Attorney; U.S. Department of Justice; Arlington County Juvenile Court; Arlington County Department of Human Resources; Arlington County Manager; Arlington County School Board; Arlington County Police Department; Arlington County Fire Department; and U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
The Staff members in attendance were: Raul Torres, Esq., Executive Director; Bruce Sirota, Investigator; Dennis Sumlin, Investigator; Elizabeth Allen, Investigator; Aloyse Cunningham, Administrative Technician; Nelson Rios, Multicultural Coordinator, County Manager’s Office; Ricardo Abarca, Interpreter
The list of speakers included:
Rev. Roberto Morales, Iglesia San Jose; Andres Tobar, Executive Director, National Association of Hispanic Publications; Claudia Baena Soares, President, Hispanic Parents Association; Walter Tejada, State Director, League of United Latin American Citizens; Jose Ramos, CARECEN; Laura Rinker, Arlington New Directions Coalition; Louise Athey, Gates of Arlington Tenants Association; German Vazquez, Gates of Arlington Tenants Association; Maria Alfaro; Gloria Star; Eduardo De la Rosa; Patricia Yurrita; Marianela Carranza, John Antonelli, and Luz Diago.
Seven Major Issues of Concern
- Arlington County’s Schools role in disciplining Hispanics students.
- Arlington County’s Police Department interaction with Hispanics.
- The Arlington County Juvenile Justice system treatment of Hispanics.
- Fair Housing in Arlington County
- Employment discrimination practices against day laborers in Arlington County.
- Representation of Hispanics in Arlington County’s top-level management positions.
- Arlington County’s agencies language capabilities to provide an equal level of public services for non-English speakers.
At its meeting on August 10, 2000 the Human Rights Commission commenced the consideration of these concerns. The issues have been divided in two categories- Category I are issues which fall under the direct jurisdiction of the Commission; and Category II are issues that do not fall within the Commission’s jurisdiction.
What follows is a brief restatement of each of the issues, as supported by the record, additional information gathered, and the final actions and recommendations adopted by the Commission.
Issues and Recommendations
CATEGORY I ISSUES
Issue: Witnesses stated their belief that Hispanics are being routinely denied housing or otherwise discriminated against as tenants.
- Conduct Fair Housing testing to develop a baseline for Arlington County.
- Instruct staff to develop and coordinate with the County’s Department of Housing and Community Planning as well as with other community organizations fair housing workshops for the education of the Hispanic tenants. These will either be conducted in Spanish or using simultaneous translation technology, as was done by the Commission at the forum.
- 3.Obtain and distribute fair housing written information materials in Spanish.
- 4.Have staff report back to the Commission on the implementation of these actions by June 30, 2001.
Issue: Witnesses made allegations about some employers’ discriminatory practices against Hispanic employees. The stated alleged acts of abuse by employers were, among others, non-payment of earned wages, threats to report immigrants to the INS, and leaving workers stranded in far away job sites.
- Instruct staff to develop and conduct workshops on employment discrimination laws for day laborers at the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, and any other place staff deems appropriate, including how to file discrimination complaints with our agency, in Spanish language.
- Distribute written materials in Spanish about employment discrimination laws for general distribution.
- Have staff report back to the Commission on the implementation of these actions by June 30,2001.
CATEGORY II ISSUES
Issue: A witness testified that Hispanics lacked adequate representation at the top management levels in the Arlington County government.
1. Refer this matter to the County Manager, the EEO Advisory Commission and the Department of Human Resources for further consideration.
Issue: Some witnesses denounced what they believed to be a biased and discriminatory practice by the Arlington County public school system in referring Hispanic students to the juvenile justice system for disciplinary problems. According to them, these problems should be handled by the school system. A witness claimed that the parents of Hispanic children want to know what are the legal rights of children and teenagers, and where they may go to complain if they feel their children’s rights have been violated. Testimony was to the effect that children should be disciplined by the school system and not by juvenile court. Suggestions were made for the school system to develop a publication on the legal rights of children and that a hot line for Spanish speakers be available for reporting incidents of alleged discrimination by the schools.
On October 12, 2000 the Commission met with School Superintendent Robert Smith and School Board Chair, Libby Garvey, in an effort to address these issues. Marjorie Tuccillo, Director of Administrative Services, and Vanessa Cardenas, Outreach Coordinator, accompanied them.
The School Superintendent addressed the disciplining of minorities, referrals to Juvenile Court, police’s role in the schools, and communication with parents. According to school officials, as a consequence of these issues being raised, the schools have taken a number of measures to address them.
- A written policy is in place (Management Bulletin #37) which lays out parental participation in questioning of students by police.
- Revised information has been inserted in the school manual, (page 27), which is published, in both English and Spanish, and available to all parents, about police/school relations
- The school system has been meeting with school principals to develop discipline information, as well as assessing the possibility of offering training to teachers, in pursuit of consistency in the application of discipline.
- The school is trying to redefine disciplinary problems by adopting Discipline Offense Codes, which could offer clearer guidelines as to when referrals are appropriate.
School officials provided very little statistical information on disciplinary issues. According to them, many of these statistics are not kept. They did provide limited oral information for School Year 1999 on suspensions for minorities. Hispanics comprised 32% of the school population and 38% of the suspensions. The information also indicated a significant overrepresentation of suspensions for Black students who constitute 16% of the school population. The school officials stated that there might be a number of valid reasons for this overrepresentation.
Refer this matter to the Arlington County School Board and Arlington County Schools’ Superintendent with the following general recommendations.
- Develop and keep more significant school discipline statistics on Hispanic and other minorities to assess whether a disproportionate impact exists.
- Evaluate the consistency of discipline as applied by different teachers and different schools.
- Evaluate the role of school, police and courts when handling school related misconduct, with the objective of having clear guidelines, coordination, and consistency between all three agencies when handling incidents.
- Evaluate communications systems between school and parents taking into consideration language, culture and other real or perceived barriers.
Issue: Witnesses testified that they believed Hispanics fear the Arlington Police Department. Statements were made about Hispanic teenagers and adult males allegedly being stopped without reasonable cause (racial profiling). According to witnesses, once stopped, their persons and vehicles were unnecessarily searched. Other witnesses made allegations that Hispanic youth were routinely photographed, in their homes or elsewhere, even if not arrested, and their photos ended up in ACPD’s photo identification albums. Witnesses generally stated their belief that Hispanic residents are treated differently than non-Hispanics. A particular issue was raised as to “day laborers”, generally, Hispanics that gather in corners and other strategic locations throughout the County waiting to be picked up by employers for a day’s work. Witnesses testified as to what they felt was harassing conduct by police officers when police moved them out of street corners and sidewalks while peacefully waiting for employers to pick them up for jobs, or by requiring from them immigration documents, or generally intimidating them. Another witness testified as to the alleged admission by a police officer that when responding to a call he would check out an apartment for overcrowding and, if he felt there was overcrowding, reporting it to the property management. The witnesses made a number of suggestions. These included a Civil Police Review Board for investigating allegations of misconduct by the police, more cultural sensitivity training and retraining for police officers, clear and public Police policies on issues such as requesting immigration documentation, photographing people who are not arrested, racial profiling, reporting overcrowding to property managers, etc.
The Commission met with the Chief of Police, Edward Flynn, and his staff on September 14, 2000 in an effort to address the issues raised by the Latino community. The following is a summary of the ACPD’s positions.
Response from Arlington County Police Department
- The ACPD indicated its officers do not harass or indiscriminately remove day laborers. ACPD has to respond to calls from complaining citizens who allege, in specific circumstances, that day laborers are breaking laws.
- ACPD has worked with the laborers to address issues of victimization by employers
- The ACPD indicated its officers do not work with the INS, or request “green cards” or any other INS documentation from anyone. Occasionally, the ACPD said it may provide support to the INS with the execution of an arrest warrant on a felony charge, or after a detainer order has been issued for a convicted felon.
- The ACPD received only 56 complaints of police misconduct in FY1999, out of which 11% were sustained. Complaints are received by telephone, fax, orally, or written. The complaint forms are in English and Spanish languages. The ACPD had approximately 124,000 contacts in FY 1999. Of these, 104,000 were calls for service and 20,000 were traffic stops. Most complaints do not involve witnesses other than the police officer and the citizen. This makes it more difficult for the complaint to be sustained. The ACPD is considering installing video cameras in police cruisers to record traffic stops.
- The ACPD stated it has a lawful tactical reason for taking photographs for documenting incidents when no arrest is made. The photographs are kept for one year and not used for general identification purposes. This is a tool for keeping track of gang members, serves as a warning when police decide not to make an arrest unless the conduct is repeated, and helps track individuals who have engaged in suspicious conduct but have not yet committed a crime. ACPD indicated that these photos are not used for lineups nor filed together with arrest photographs. The police officer is supposed to explain to the citizen why the photos are taken and what is going to happen to them.
- The Chief agreed that there was much room for improvement in ACPD’s communications with the community.
- The Chief gave the Commission copy of a written anti-racial profiling policy in effect, but has acknowledged that ACPD does not keep data to determine whether racial profiling is practiced.
- The Chief did not address any specific case for lack of information and generally explained all the ongoing community outreach efforts.
Refer to the County Manager and the Chief of Police with the following general recommendations.
- Develop and keep more significant statistics on race, sex, and ethnicity of police contacts with citizens, as a way to evaluate police officers adherence to policies.
- Redouble efforts to achieve efficient communications with the Hispanic community by using readily available general and special media.
- Translate and communicate to the Hispanic community its anti-racial profiling policy; the circumstances for taking photographs of citizens without arrest; its non-involvement with INS enforcement of immigration laws, as well as any other major police action that is negatively perceived by the Hispanic community.
- Acknowledge that communication barriers exist between the police and the Hispanic community and commit the Department to gain the trust and respect of the Hispanic community.
Issue: Various witnesses believe that the Juvenile Justice System treats the Hispanic Community differently. They were highly critical of Arlington’s court appointed counsel system and on how this system, according to them, provides inadequate legal representation, forcing innocent defendants to plead guilty. Also, witnesses denounced the alleged practice of having Hispanic juveniles routinely referred to juvenile court for disciplinary problems, which, according to them, should be handled by the schools disciplinary system. An incident was mentioned where felony charges were filed against two Hispanic elementary school students, with no prior criminal record or behavioral problems, for putting soap in a teacher’s water bottle.
The Commission met on December 14, 2000 with Judge Esther Wiggins, Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court. The following is a summary of the judge’s reactions to the issues raised.
- According to the Chief Judge, everyone who appears before juvenile court is treated the same.
- Judge Wiggins believes that the existing court appointed counsel system is good. The lawyers are competent and there is no reason why the court should move to change it.
- She sees more Hispanics in her courtroom than any other minority group.
- Even though the Chief Judge, orally, gave a general breakdown of defendants by ethnicity and race, no written statistics were provided to the Commission.
- As to the perception issues of juvenile court’s unfairness towards Hispanics, Judge Wiggins declined to accept a more pro-active role for the court and, instead, places the burden on those who have the perception (the wrong perception according to her) to raise it directly with the appropriate authorities on a case-by-case.
Refer to the Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court for consideration with the following recommendations.
- Develop and keep more significant statistics on Hispanics and other minorities to assess possible causes for their disproportionate participation in the juvenile justice system.
- Improve communications with the Hispanic community, including but not limited to the development and distribution of translated materials on how the juvenile court system works.
- Initiate an evaluation of the effectiveness and quality of the court appointed counsel system.
- Set up an internal process for channeling issues raised by the Hispanic community.
- Acknowledge that communication barriers exist between the court and the Hispanic community and consider ways for gaining and maintaining institutional trust from the Hispanic community.
Issue: Various witnesses, including a woman battling cancer, stated that Arlington County does not have the language capabilities to deliver the same level of services to non-English speakers. Various speakers, following the examples of the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, suggested the creation of an Office of Latino Affairs for translation and advocacy purposes.
Response of the County Manager
The Commission met with Ron Carlee, Acting County Manager on February 15, 2001 to dialogue about the concerns raised at the forum. The County Manager addressed them as follows:
The Acting County Manager preferred a multi cultural countywide approach for service delivery to Hispanic and other minorities rather than the establishment of a singular office, which could be perceived as placing accountability in this office rather than in the whole organization.
He brought up the progress obtained within the last 10 years in recruitment of Hispanics, but acknowledged that more could be done and committed to do more, particularly at senior level positions.
He assured the Commission that all government services should be available to all residents regardless of language, culture or any other factor and affirmed his commitment to see that it happens.
Refer to the County Manager for consideration with the following recommendations.
- Monitor all county services for impact on diversity.
- Make managers accountable for their efforts and successes in addressing diversity issues, by establishing diversity as a common key element and measuring their efforts through the Performance Evaluation processes.
- Make EEO and diversity training for the workforce a top priority.
- Set goals and objectives for full and equal accessibility of services for all residents of Arlington County.
The Human Rights Commission has considered all the issues presented by the Hispanic community at the forum and has recommended action on those Category 1 issues that fall within its jurisdiction. The Commission gathered additional information on issues raised over which the Commission does not have direct jurisdiction (Category II issues) and has made appropriate referrals with recommendations to the agencies that have jurisdiction to act on them.
Considering all the facts gathered at the forum and supplemented by our dialogue with different county agencies we have concluded that there are three major areas that require immediate attention by all agencies involved. The first is the ineffective communication existing between the Hispanic community and the agencies alluded to in this forum. The second area is the lack of existing processes that allows the Hispanic community to bring directly to the attention of agencies in question, their issues, concerns and perceptions. The third is the absence of significant statistics kept by agencies that could serve to both dispel wrong perceptions and to warn agencies of problem areas that must be addressed before they escalate into major problems. If these three areas are addressed by the corresponding agencies it is reasonable to expect that the level of trust and cooperation between Hispanics and the agencies will increase.
The Human Rights Commission is authorized by Chapter 31 of the Arlington County Code Section 31-6 (10) to refer to the appropriate state or federal agency complaints of discrimination which are within the jurisdiction of the state or federal agency. The Commission is also authorized under Section 31-6 (12) of the County Code to gather, discuss and disseminate information about discrimination and human rights problems affecting community life in Arlington County.
Adopted unanimously by the duly constituted Human Rights Commission of Arlington County on April 12, 2001.