Lafayette Park belongs to the people, not the president

March 30, 2003
Washington Times

Though I agree with Tom Knott that entirely too many police are being diverted to cover anti-war demonstrations in Washington ("Tormented protesters give us no moment of peace," Life, Thursday), I don't think it's the fault of the demonstrators.

I have never before seen so many police and barriers around the White House. During the first Gulf war in 1991, the U.S. Park Police dealt with people beating on drums in Lafayette Park with more than adequate precautions. There was a fence on the south edge of the park, and there was a row of Park Police and their vehicles and horses in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. It seemed like overkill then (and it was), but compared to today, it was a puny show of force. The Park Police were perfectly able to deal with protests by dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people. Now, there's no protest without Secret Service officers giving orders, Metropolitan Police brandishing insults and sticks, and Park Police keeping people out of the park.

In 1995, the Secret Service came out from behind the White House fence and proclaimed Lafayette Park to be, in effect, the "president's park." They have stolen the people's park, and that's a real crime. Lafayette Park was set aside by Thomas Jefferson more than two centuries ago as the First Amendment's front line.

The Metropolitan Police should go back to their neighborhoods and let the trained Park Police deal with demonstrations. The Secret Service officers should be reminded that they are working "for the people" to protect the president, not to impinge on our rights. The fences along H Street should come down.