Homeless man shot near White House

The Militant January 16, 1995

WASHINGTON, D.C. USA - U.S. Park Police officer shot and critically wounded a 33-year-old homeless man, Marcelino Corniel, as he stood in front of the White House on the morning of December 20. He died from his wounds a day later.

In a scene captured on video and broadcast on television, Corniel was standing on the sidewalk with a knife taped to his left hand pointing to the ground. He was surrounded by three U.S. Park Police officers and two Secret Service agents who were pointing their 9 mm handguns at him.

Corniel, who had burn scars over about 70 percent of his body from a previous car accident, was apparently angry over the constant harassment he and other homeless people face from the police patrolling Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. According to other individuals in the park, Corniel was upset that Park Police had removed two lockers belonging to three homeless friends. The cops had also taken away his blankets. Just that morning, one of them had kicked and prodded Corniel with his nightstick.

Robert Hines, a Park Police spokesman, called the shooting "appropriate." "I'm certainly not going to stand here and second guess the decision a law enforcement officer made...and neither is the president or anybody here," said White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers.

The day after the shooting and just hours before he died, Corniel was charged with assaulting a federal police officer.

Three other Lafayette Square protesters filed a suit in U.S. District Court December 22 demanding that the police stop harassing demonstrators and homeless people there. William Thomas, one of the people who filed the suit, stated that cops regularly kick people who sleep in the park and jab them with batons, supposedly to enforce a prohibition against camping.