Alexandria police, reporting increasing calls to Arlandria, are concerned that frustration over expected evictions may be adding to tension in the low-income neighborhood of Hispanics and blacks.
On Sunday night, a brawl erupted in the Arlandria neighborhood between 20 Hispanics and 20 blacks, according to police and witnesses. A security guard who witnessed the incident said the fight occurred after a Hispanic man called a black man an obscene name. A crowd gathered and beer bottles were thrown, smashing the windshields of two cars and carpeting a street with glass.
"It's happening with alarming frequency," said Arlen Justice, deputy director of the Alexandria Police Department. "The poverty, unemployment and overcrowding are tremendous stressors on those people. They come from different cultures. They don't understand or trust each other."
Residents and city officials attribute the recent violence to residents' added concerns that a plan to upgrade 1,057 rundown apartments for low-income tenants in Arlandria, along the Alexandria-Arlington border, will force thousands of persons from their homes this fall.
Roma Brier, a resident of the Dominion Gardens apartment complex, said the community is worried and people are competing with each other to find an affordable place to live. "Nobody knows where they're going next," Brier said. "Maybe that's why there is so much more violence around here."
Justice said police efforts to deal with the problems are exacerbated by Spanish-speaking residents who refuse to report incidents because they are illegal residents or fear authorities because of their experience with police and army officers in their native Central American countries.
"It's like a powder keg here," said Phil Hancock, the security officer who witnessed Sunday's fight and a resident at the Brookside Apartments.
Three times in as many weeks, Hancock said, he has witnessed fights between blacks and Hispanics.
"It's gotten worse as more and more Hispanics have moved in. The blacks are no longer the majority," said Hancock, a white, five-year resident of Arlandria who said the violence is worse than ever.
Luis Alvarez, a Hispanic resident, said the fights have been started by black residents taunting Hispanics. "We are not doing anything, they are bothering us," said Alvarez.
City officials shake their heads when asked how many Hispanics, blacks and other groups live in Arlandria, which is north of segments of Glebe Road in Alexandria.
Based on outdated 1980 census material and estimates of unreported illegal immigrants and crowding, officials say they believe that there are three or four times as many Hispanics as blacks in an area that was predominantly black in 1980. Social workers, police and housing officials hesitantly estimate that between 7,000 and 10,000 people live in Arlandria.
According to police statistics, 206 major crimes were reported in the area in the first five months of this year, compared with 188 for the same period last year. But Justice said most of the recent increase in violence is attributable to domestic problems and street fights -- figures that could not be obtained yesterday.
Some police officers say they respond several times a day to disturbances in the area.
"As soon as the police come, everybody melts back into their apartments," said Samuel Henderson, a resident. "The police come too late anyway. They don't know what's going on. You hear them say 'No comprende.' "
Caroline Keene, a black who has lived in Alexandria for 15 years, stood outside her Dominion Gardens apartment yesterday as she said she had during the fight Sunday.
"It makes me angry," Keene said. "I have been here for a long time and I don't have a new car. But those foreigners have been here a year and they do. They are taking our jobs at service stations, McDonald's, motel . . . working for $3.40. How can we support our families on $3.40? They can because they have 10 people living in one apartment."
Keene and others complain that Hispanics blast loud "foreign" music. "They play it so damn loud. I told my old man the other night that if I had a rifle I'd shoot the guy who was playing it," Keene said.
Hispanics complain of blacks carrying radios and tape decks down the streets broadcasting loud rock, reggae and rap music.
Justice said that even though police responded twice to the disturbance between the two groups Sunday night, officers made no report and made no arrest because the owners of the two smashed automobiles have not reported the crimes.