PRESS RELEASE - April 22, 1999
CONTACT: 202-462-0757 - Ellen Thomas
NATO BIRTHDAY FETE, STRANGLING FREEDOM IN DC?
Last week National Park Service workers passed out a "Public
Notice" which dictated, "persons demonstrating or otherwise
using ... portion(s) of (Lafayette) park ... should remove themselves
... from the area." William Thomas, who has maintained a
continuous vigil in Lafayette Park since 1981, says that he cannot
comply with that Park Service dictate.
"Just twelve years ago such heavy handed government
tactics would have been totally inconceivable." Thomas says.
"Thanks to the ever more popular national obsession with
security, the concurrent diminishment of freedom, and a judicial
system which isn't troubled by the facts of reality, what was
once unthinkable has now become standard operating procedure."
According to Thomas, the first time that portions of Lafayette
Park were closed was on the occasion of Mikhail Gorbachev's first
visit to DC in December, 1987. Shocked by this abrupt departure
from the traditional American tradition of democratic ideals,
Thomas filed a complaint in the District
Court. He urged the Court to enjoin the closure, claiming
that the Gorbachev visit presented no additional security concerns
than the visits to the White House of many hundreds of other foreign
dignitaries. Additionally, Thomas claimed that the closure violated
Code of Federal Regulation requirements for park closures.
"The government argued that this was an 'extraordinary
circumstance' which would probably never happen again, and that
the closures were only going to be for periods of ten or fifteen
minutes, while Gorbachev was actually entering or leaving the
White House." Thomas recalls. "I said that it was like
letting the camel get his nose into the tent, and that if the
Court let them get away with it, they would just keep pushing
and sneaking further into the tent." The Court
compromised, allowing the police to close sections of the
park, and exclude the demonstrators, but allowing the demonstrators
signs to remain in the closed areas.
Thomas feels that time has proven the accuracy of his predictions.
"This will be the seventh time this year that the government
has closed portions of the park. Not only that, instead of for
'short periods of time,' this time they're going to do it for
a far longer period."
"President Reagan used to teach that the Evil Empire
was centered around Moscow's Red Square." Thomas said, "Unlike
Lafayette Park, where 'people are free to demonstrate, and express
their opinions,' Reagan used to say, the Evil Empire had no respect
for the sanctity of free expression. Today, if Mr. Reagan can
still think, he might be very disappointed to realize that 'secret police, mindless
bureaucracy' tactics' are now at work in Lafayette Park."
Thomas says that he considers the closure to be illegal,
and that he will remain at his usual demonstration location, because,
"To do otherwise would be to capitulate to tyranny."
Thomas Arrest April 23, 1999, 12:30 p.m.
Letter to Stan Lock, National Park Service, April 19, 1999
Closure Announcement | 1601 Pennsylvania Avenue