Tension Perpetual for Police and Homeless

Park Service Rules Guarantee It

by Matt Neufield
December 22,1994
The Washington Times

(Click on picture for a decade-old proposed solution)

The shooting Tuesday on a sidewalk in front of the White House has further strained the difficult relationship between homeless people living in Lafayette Park and the U.S..Park Police who patrol it.

After the 9 a.m. shooting of Marcelino Corniel,33, who police say chased an officer with a knife taped to his hand and refused an order fo put down the weapon, some homeless people who live in the park say they are harassed by Park Police nightly.

One homeless man said Tuesday that Mr. Corniel, who died last night from his wounds, was upset about Park Police treatment of the homeless living in the park.

"They'll come through here in the middle of the night and hit the benches with nightsticks," said Warren Gaskins, 30, a homeless man originally from Northeast who has iived in the park for about eight months.

"No one can condone violent actions. People should understand, that homeless people are far more often the victims of crime than they are the perpetrators.

He said 25 to 30 people sleep in the park each night.

"If we don't wake up, they'll harass us a little more. It's like every day. They don't tell us to go to another park. They don't tell us that at all," he said.

But Park Police officials yesterday and Tuesday denied that officers harass anyone and said they are merely enforcing a law prohibiting overnight sleeping in the park.

"We have laws regarding bathing, sleeping, camping in the park," said Sgt. Gregory Brown, who works in the chief's office. "I've been with the Park Police since 1971, and it's been a tenuous marriage since then.

"They're not being harassed. We're just enforcing the laws of the park." the sergeant said. "To them, harassment is just waking them up and telling them not to camp in the park. To us, that's just using laws that are applicable."

The rules are clear, and mapped out in federal regulations, Sgt. Brown said: no overnight sleeping or camping allowed in Lafayette Park.

Those rules are similar to National Park Service regulations for other national parks and were not sparked by specific incidents or directly related to White House security, he said. The law restricts overnight sleeping for sanitary reasons and because the park is not a campsite, he said.

The homeless "bring a large amount of trash and rodents," said Sgt. Brown. "We're talking about at least 23 years this has been going on," referring to enforcement of the laws.

Security "is not part of the equation," he said. "The laws were not created to enhance the security of the White House."

Similar laws exist in other parks, he noted. "We have a full set of guidelines ... that involve all the national parks," he said.