The open rift between the Arlington NAACP and the county government grew wider on March 19, with a top official of the civil-rights organization accusing local leaders of falling short on issues related to incarceration.
“You all are failing,” Michael Hemminger, speaking for the executive board of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, told County Board members. “This is and will become your legacy for communities of color in the community.”
The local NAACP, which has amped up its community profile and seems to be tacking left on the political spectrum in recent years, used the County Board’s public-comment period to criticize both a number of recent deaths of inmates in the Arlington County Detention Facility, and broader issues of policing and public safety in the community.
Hemminger said that despite pronouncements from the all-Democratic County Board, there are disparities in how non-white residents are treated compared to their white counterparts.
“The data is devastating and it simply cannot be refuted,” he said.
In response to the remarks, County Board Chairman Katie Cristol retorted that it was unfair to paint elected officials as unconcerned about the issues raised.
“We have not been silent. We have spoken about this at great length. [It is] something we are incredibly focused on,” she said.
In terms of detention-center operations, Cristol said, that is the purview of the elected sheriff, and County Board members “do not have oversight of what goes on in the jail itself.”
Several other board members also responded with a variety of what their critics perhaps perceive as platitudes, but which did point out efforts that have been made to support jail-diversion and mental-health-intervention efforts.
Board member Libby Garvey, perhaps wondering how an elected body that touts its progressive bona-fides at every turn was being cast as regressive and repressive by a leading civil-rights organization, said she was eager for the NAACP to work with local leaders.
“We welcome your partnership. I hope you will be a partner and help us move forward,” she said.
Founded in 1940, the Arlington NAACP has become more aggressive in its dealings with the all-Democratic county power structure under the leadership of current president Julius Spain Sr.
The organization recently tried to convince the Arlington County Democratic Committee to eliminate or at least significantly alter its process for selecting a School Board candidate, an effort that was overwhelmingly rejected by Democratic leaders. The NAACP also has taken a strong stance in pushing for changes to existing housing policy that may be a step too far for the current political establishment.
The NAACP seems to be “at war” with local Democrats, one veteran party member sighed after the caucus skirmish. If so, Hemminger has a ringside seat: In addition to being third vice president of the Arlington NAACP, in January he was elected deputy chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.