By Mike Goodman
As of Feb. 24, over 21,000 people, many of them residents of DC, had signed a www.change.org petition opposing permanent security fencing around the US Capitol. The petition, created by www.DontFenceTheCapitol.com, states “…permanent fencing punishes not the domestic terrorists who engaged in the attack, nor the law enforcement entities who failed to adequately protect the Congress, nor do they change the systemic governance issues preventing DC from protecting itself. No, a permanent fence punishes we, the people, from seeing and accessing the People’s House. Visitors and residents of DC would be punished by a permanent fence, a permanent scar on our beautiful city, and would lose access to this beautiful beacon of democracy.”
City leaders have begun speaking out against permanent fencing as well. On Feb. 23, every Member of the DC City Council sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressing “…opposition to any permanent expansion of the security perimeter surrounding the United States Capitol Complex or any loss of public access to the Capitol grounds and adjacent public space.” In addition, Councilmember Charles Allen put in a request to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton that she support legislation requiring that someone representing the interests of DC be added to the Capitol Police Board (CPB), which has oversight of the US Capitol Police (USCP).
“Notably, no one on the Board represents the interests of the District government or our residents, including those who live near the U.S. Capitol Complex,” states Allen. “If the USCP’s only duty were to protect Members of Congress and staff, that might make sense, but the USCP’s actions significantly impact District residents and our neighborhoods, as well. As just one example, the USCP’s decision to fence off the U.S. Capitol Complex affects emergency vehicle response in the District, meaning that Metropolitan Police Department and Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department vehicles have to take longer routes to respond to critical emergencies.”
In response, Norton announced on Feb. 25 that she would introduce a bill that would make the chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department an ex officio, non-voting member of the CPB. “Currently, no one on the CPB represents the interests of DC residents,” Norton said. “This bill will ensure that DC will have a role in the decisions of the CPB, which affect DC residents more than any other Americans. The actions of the CPB significantly impact residents of the District, and this bill will ensure DC has a role in these important decisions.”
Editor Update: The fencing around St. John’s Church was taken down in early March. The 12 foot fencing and razor wire that blocked off 3rd St. has been removed and pushed back closer to Congress, on the other side of 3rd St. The new fence will be 8 feet and still topped with razor wire. According to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, National Guard troops will be leaving on March 12. There is ongoing debate as to what new measures will be implemented to keep the Capitol complex secure while also maintaining public accessibility.