Loose Lips

Vince Gray, Language Law Scofflaw?

Mayor Vince Gray's walk to oppose synthetic marijuana sales in Petworth last week was sidetracked when Gray encountered a store clerk who said he didn't speak English. How, Gray wanted to know, could the man help customers if he couldn't even speak English? Now language activists at Many Languages One Voice have produced a video where young people who are learning English respond to Gray's treatment of the clerk. "This is really, I think, immature," says one.

Also criticizing Gray is language access advocate Noelle Galos, who thinks the mayor might not even be aware of a law that requires the District government to provide translation services when it interacts with people who do not speak English. By not talking to the clerk with an Amharic-speaking translator after the clerk indicated he did not speak English well, the mayor could have broken that law, according to Galos.

"The mayor's telling this guy that what he's doing it illegal, and what he's doing is pretty illegal," says Galos, who wrote a blog post about the exchange.

Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for the mayor, tells LL that Gray was so insistent with the clerk because neighbors said that Petworth stores, including his, were selling synthetic pot. "They may not speak it perfectly, but they certainly understood it well enough to sell you K2," says Ribeiro. Despite the tips, the mayor's visits didn't turn up any synthetic marijuana.

This should be the last of the mayor's language problems with clerks. Future synthetic marijuana walks will feature more translators, Ribeiro says.

  • Erin

    Cheers to these amazing youth! The Mayor could learn a thing or two from them, and hopefully he takes their words to heart

  • IAmNotALiberalDemocrat

    Political correctness at it's best. Hell, if any native speaking from the U.S. or England was living in El Salvador, Yemen, or Ethiopia would have to learn the languages in those countries operating a business to be able to communicate with the natives. Our country, the U.S. have gone straight to hell in a handbasket. There's no freedom of speech anyone without some calling it hate speech or your being a racist. This country was better when it was mostly black and white U.S. citizens. Bringing in all these other ethnic groups and cultures have cause confusion. DIVERSITY sucks!!!!

  • IAmNotALiberalDemocrat

    Correction: If any native speaker from the U.S. or England.

  • IAmNotALiberalDemocrat

    English is the primary language spoken in the United States and dammit non natives should learn to speak the English language or stay in their own countries and speak there languages amongst themselves. I know it may sound harsh, however, I'm speaking what's in my heart.

  • IAmNotALiberalDemocrat

    their

  • CapHillResident

    Give Gray a break on this. He was at a store that sold, well, drugs.

    The Translation law is just plain dumb. There are over 200 hundred languages for which there are translators at the UN. The Dc government cannot possibly provide translators for the multiple languages spoken in DC by residents and visitors.

    Oh, and, yes, people who live in the US should try to learn English.

  • JimA

    The store clerk could speak English enough to take people's money.

    The store was selling synthetic marijuana and bath salts (drugs), right? The store sold it to kids, right?

    But some whack-job is worried about whether gray treated the drug seller with enough respect? It must be a slow news day.

  • Bac

    Gray is correct on this one. Thank you Mr Mayor.

  • Chris hauser

    Uh, where's my translator when "they" don't speak English?

    Ain't I entitled too?

    This is joke, yes?

  • Chris hauser

    As opposed to liquid crack, aka malt liquor.

  • Chris hauser

    As opposed to certain Caribbean islanders who speak the king's english......ah, never mind.

  • Chris hauser

    By the way, "they" meaning foreign born English as a second language speakers, as exemplified by the Amharic speaking store clerk.

    No misunderstandings here, please.

  • Chris hauser

    Isn't where 300 million plus a year was spent more important?

  • Drez

    The Language Access Act is the law in DC and passed while Gray was on the council.
    He certainly knows of it. And his administration spends significant money each year to ensure DC has the ability to comply with it. He has translators - especially Amharic translators- on staff and under contract.
    But that sort of mediated conversation seems not to have been the sort of photo op media sound bite that he wanted with this little stunt.

  • Jes’ sayin

    Gray: I want some rolling papers.
    Clerk: One dollar twenty five cents.
    Gray: And some "bath salts".
    Clark: Five dollars.
    Gray: You know that's against the law to sell this stuff?
    Clark: No speak English.

    Program hustler: The Mayor broke the law.

    Child, please.

  • dddd

    Thanks for pointing out that the Mayor possibly was doing something illegal. Regardless, a very insensitive and possibly xenophobic encounter!

  • Really???

    Really??? You gotta be kidding me...
    Com'n LL... Much respect for your column, love reading it, but this here.... "Child Please!"
    This sounds like a Jonnetta Barnes type story... No substance and out of left field...
    #OneCity

  • FormerBrownSupporter

    THIS IS THE WORST LOOSE LIPS EVER!! I MISS MR. SULDERMAN! GO BACK TO JOURNALISM SCHOOL.

  • Asuka

    "language access advocate" - lol; I wonder who's paying her salary.

    Gray wants illegals to get drivers' licenses, so he should be prepared to interact with people who can't speak english and refuse to learn it. This is the city he wants and these are the constituents the council needs to maintain their stranglehold on power. Meanwhile, in other parts of the city, unemployment is 20%.

  • IAmNotALiberalDemocrat

    This wouldn't be tolerated in Italy. Read the Huffington Post.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/27/bananas-thrown-at-black-i_n_3662860.html

  • Chevis

    "There's no freedom of speech"

    Quite possibly the most ignorant thing said online by people who don't understand what the 1st amendment protects. Hint: It does not protect you from being ridiculed in the press if you say something stupid, or being fired from your job.

  • seeseehpounder

    It would seem that IAmNotALiberalDemocrat and Chris hauser have a minimal understanding of the english language as well. If there are any translators who speak red neck please let us know what these mongoloids are saying.

  • noodlez

    IM SICK OF YALL HATE EVERYTHING MAYOR GRAY DUMB ASS MUTHA FUCKAS!

    THERE WAS NO LAW BROKEN HERE AND WILLY EARL AND HIS "GOTCHA" LL COLUMN IS GETTING STALE AND WACK BY THE DAY.

  • Reader

    Please seeseehpounder, IAmNotALiberalDemocrat is a sad old hack who goes by about 20 names on different blogs in the city and can certainly not speak English with anything approaching fluency. You always know it's him/her by the fucking horrible attempt at writing. I'm looking at you, Southeast Ken.

    It's definitely not redneck, believe me - it's a little bit more urban I'm sure.

  • IAmNotALiberalDemocrat

    Sorry, I am not a redneck seeseehpounder. I am a black man and native Washingtonian. As I stated, if I moved to El Salvador, Spain, France, Iran, or any other country. I would have to learn to speak their language to operate and own a business in those countries. Yes, there's no freedom of speech.

  • IAmNotALiberalDemocrat

    Reader, you are an illiterate immigrant fool. You don't know me, nor I wish to know you, Mr. Cuban cigar. Be careful trying to out people you think you know.

  • noodlez

    READER, WHAT'S YOUR PROBLEM WITH THE PERSONAL ATTACKS? FOOL HOW CAN YOU LOOK THROUGH CYBER SPACE AND KNOW WHO'S TYPING OR POSTING ON BLOGS. YOU SAY,IAMNOTALIBERALDEMOCRAT IS SOUTHEAST KEN. I GUESS YOU WILL BE CALLING ME MICHAEL JACKSON OR AL SHARPTON. ONE CITY! LEAVE MAYOR GRAY ALONE. HE'S RIGHT ON THIS!

  • noodlez

    READER, YOU NEED TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE AND SPELL BEFORE THROWING STONES AT OTHERS. TYPICAL BS FROM WHITEY!

  • Barry Morase

    All I can say is wow. However, Mayor Vincent Gray wasn't wrong on this, nor did he do anything insensitive or racist. Just my opinion on this matter.

  • Barry Morase

    I agree with the Capital Hill resident. If people move to this country from another country, they should and need to learn English. I lived in Germany for 6 years. I studied German and I learned to speak enough German to conversate with the natives.

  • Barry Morase

    Reader, you seem to be full of anger by the use of profanity in your comment. Couldn't you have made a comment without the profanity?

  • Fabrisse

    Mr. Morase -- if you "conversated" you not only don't speak German, you don't speak English.

    I also lived in Germany long term. I spoke very little German, but did my best to be pleasant and polite. It depends upon your neighborhood (at one point, New York had multiple Yiddish theaters and newspapers, for instance, and native speakers of that language often didn't need English. There were also German enclaves throughout the midwest and in Texas.) whether English is required in daily life.

    Is it worthwhile to learn another language? Yes, especially if you are an immigrant who plans to be a citizen. Is it easy? Not for most people -- especially older adults -- and it's more difficult if the languages have few root word in common as is the case between Amharic and English.

  • 20011

    Here's the problem: If Gray was actually doing something productive like getting K2 or Spice out of these gas stations, then I'd have his back. But instead, he's badgering these clerks over rolling papers, grinders and blunt wraps. Sorry, Mayor Gray, it's not illegal (nor should it be) to sell rolling papers, grinders and blunt wraps and you're not saving the youts of the city by cracking down on those.

    Plus you look like an asshole when the man accused of running a six-figure shadow campaign criticizes some gas station clerk for selling rolling papers. Get the fuck out of here.

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  • Barry Morase

    LOL@Fabrisse; I meant to say communicate, not conversate. It was late when I typed that response. Thank you for the correction. However, many Germans learned English in school and German is the official language in Germany. The point I was trying to make, people living in another country for a long period of time should learn to speak the native language. I'm not a Vincent Gray supporter and I live in Chevy Chase Northwest Washington.

  • Typical DC BS

    Hey Hey noodlez! I'm the only Typical BS here!

  • qwerty

    This kind of publicity stunt doesn't ever really turn out too well. The Mayor should just continue to run the city effectively and avoid these kind of staged shows. It is beneath the office of the Mayor.

  • dccommish

    GIVE ME A BREAK! Everyone should speak English! I'm not a fan of these laws that require the US govt to provide translation services. This is America and we speak English, English is the establish international business language. It is in the best interest of anyone either US born or not to speak English. Noelle Galos should be ashamed of herself. Instead of bitching at the Mayor, she should have been saying to the store owner that he was lacking skills he needed to survive in America. If you can't speak English when you get here, then it's one of the most important things you'll need to do in order to survive. So Noelle stop your bitching and take positive actions with non English speakers, instead of complaining about Americans who believe speaking English is the right thing to do! Otherwise you are part of the break down of American values that hold us together as a nation! ENGLISH! And Noelle shut you trap about those who complain about non-English speakers, because frankly we are paying dearly for their lack of language skills, health care, welfare, etc. It's not the American way and you cannot defend it!

  • Corky

    Some people here are just plain stupid. There is no law requiring the Mayor to have a translator with him at all times. That law applies to courts, DMV offices and the like. There SHOULD be a law requiring people who live in this country to speak English. And I don't care who might find that politically incorrect or inconvenient. If you want to live in an inefficient, fractured, multi lingual society, move to India or Belgium. A common language is what unites this country and helped to make it a superpower.

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