The Washington Post,
Thursday, December 22, 1994

Two Worlds Collide Near White House

Shooting Puts Focus On Pennsylvania Divide

By DeNeen L. Brown
and Wendy Melillo
Washington Post Staff Writers

Usually the two worlds are parallel in the 1600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue: the White House on one side, representing power and some sanity, and Lafayette Square on the other, filled with the powerless, homeless and demonstrators, some who slip in and out of lucidity as they mount angry protests.

On Tuesday, the two sides collided when a homeless man dashed across the avenue and allegedly attacked a U.S. Park Police officer, whose job it is to secure the grounds around the White House.

The man, identified as Marcelino Corniel, 33, who was shot twice--in the chest and leg--had lived in the park for several mouths. He died yesterday at George Washington University Hospital.

Yesterday, a number of demonstrators and homeless people who stay in the park said they believed Corniel had "snapped" because he was angry about what they called police harassment. They said Corniel was upset that Park Police had taken away two lockers belonging to some of his homeless friends. One man said that Corniel wanted revenge because officers had taken away his blankets.

The shooting on the sidewalk in front of the White House has brought new attention to the world of Lafayette Square, a green square once called Presidents Park that has become a grand stage for world protests and a symbol of the American right to freedom of speech.

Yesterday, Frank Fahrenkopf, the former national chairman of the Republican Party, called for officials to clear out the park. "The American people should have the right to bring their kids to see the people's house without having bums abuse them or yell or scream or see people lying in their own filth," Fahrenkopf said.

The park, which was once the front lawn of the White House, has become a neighborhood--the homeless and demonstrators live on park benches instead of in houses. The anti-government- demonstrators have claimed the sidewalk along Pennsylvania Avenue as their territory. Homeless people congregate not far away in the northeast and northwest comers of the park. During the day, they wait on benches, talking Some drink from paper bags and others just sit and stare. Mostly, they wait for food, for sandwich wagons, gracious souls who bring fruit and office workers who deliver leftovers from office parties.

At night, they fend off rats and sit straight up as they "nap" to avoid citations for sleeping-prohibited in the park. As in any neighborhood, there is neighborly tension. "Basically, they have it good on the front line, said a homeless woman named Robin, who moved to the park six months ago, who sits on a cushion on a bench near 15th and H streets NW. "They get stuff on the front line all the time, and they don't tell us about it. We don't get along. They just act snobbish."

Concepcion Picciotto, a woman who has kept a vigil directly across the street from the White House since 1978 to protest nuclear weapons, said she is not part of the group of homeless people. I'm not connected with that," she said dipping a brush in a can of green paint as she drew a peace sign and a dove on a stone. I'm here, to communicate my cause and paint my rocks.

Not far from her live the "Jackson brothers," who are protesting the "assassination" of their father, who they say was a presidential adviser. They also claim to be direct descendants of at least five presidents. They complain about police. "They take a stick and come by in the morning and bang on the boards and scream,'Get up,' "Walter Jackson said.

U.S. Park Police patrol day and night to enforce federal laws that prohibit people from camping in the park. Park Police Maj. Robert H. Hines said security has been increased since Oct. 29, when more than a dozen shots were fired at the White House, allegedly by a Colorado man. He said two officers instead of one are now assigned to patrol the two beats, the sidewalk in front of the White House and the park. Hines denied that officers are harassing people in the park.

He said officers are just trying to enforce the law against camping, "I think each officer allows a little latitude. If someone falls asleep, they might let them sleep for an hour or two," he said. "But if they have been Sleeping all night long, we wake them up. We don't want to get the appearance the park is a camp site."