Security Forces Close Park During Anniversary Celebration.

On June 3, 1998, the 17th anniversary of the Peace Vigil in Lafayette Park we met "Dave," who told us that the Washington Times Day Book, "on page A-8 spelled out that at 5:30 there would be the annual picnic for the Peace People in Lafayette Park," and that's why Dave stopped by.

As usual, while some of the vigil's old friends were beginning to show up to mark the anniversary, but Dave, who came as a result of an announcement in the Washington Times, a long term vigil antagonist, was a pleasant surprise.

Coincidentally, as Dave was telling us about the Washington Times, and old friends were stopping by the White House "roof ninjas" were closely observing the Peace People's picnic.


At about 5:45 uniformed Secret Service agents approached the Vigil signs, to announce a bomb scare, declare that Lafayette Park was closed, and force everyone to leave the park. On at least two previous occasions within the preceding six months -- when a paper bag was left on the White House sidewalk, and again when a diaper bag was left on a park bench -- police had closed small portions of the park for about 15 minutes to half an hour. However, the vigil anniversary closure was historic; marking the first time police closed the entire park because of a bomb scare. As has been the case with every bomb scare in the Park, except in the minds of the police, this one was totally bogus.

Although it was threatening to rain, the agents would not allow Concepcion to cover her literature with plastic, allegedly because of the urgency of the situation.

"What's the authority for doing this?" Thomas asked.

"I'm the authority for doing this." The SS officer replied. "It's okay, you can come right back."

A SS Sergeant approached, and Thomas again asked, "What's the authority for doing this?"

"A suspicious package. We don't want you to blow up. So let's go. Let's go." The Sergeant responded, insisting that people to leave the Park.

A couple of days earlier a Park Police officer told Thomas that when the President wanted to walk across Pennsylvania Avenue as part of his school reunion festivities, the Secret Service wanted to close the whole Park, but the Park Police refused; asserting that they had no authority to take such a drastic measure.

The sun was setting, which would have made it approximately 8:30, when the SS allowed the public to return to the Park. Concepcion raced the police back to her demonstration site, so she could cover her literature with plastic to prevent further damage from the rain which had begun falling since her exclusion from the Park.

According to Thomas, "They closed down the Park for no reason. This all started when Judge Oberdorfer allowed them to put in their in their special security precautions for Gorbachev's first visit. Since then they've been expanding on that until now they've reached a point where they can close the park on the untrue assertion that they have an unidentified object on a bench on the other side of the park. What they've done to us, they've done to everybody else. They've closed this park; in violation of the Code of Federal Regulations and in total disregard of the principles of a free and democratic nation."

Of course, during these times of heightened security concerns, the average citizen is unlikely to seriously question SS motives in closing an entire city block because someone left an 8 1/2 x 11 inch manila envelop on a park bench, even when police officers feel secure enough to calmly enjoy dinner. Still, without a complete suspension of credulity, a couple of serious questions about "security" remain.

First, assuming a situation critical enough to cause an evacuation of the entire park, why did police agents mass in the threatened area with their gasoline laden vehicles?

Second, considering that the 8 1/2 x 11 inch manila envelop in this case was smaller that either the paper or diaper bags which had caused previous terrors, both of which required closing only small sections of the Park for short periods,

and further considering that this time the police had highly efficient technology -- a highly sophisticated robot -- to deal with the potential terror; why did it take officials over two hours to discover that the manila envelop was perfectly harmless?


Third, was it all a coincidence, or was the Secret Service and friends using an 8 1/2 x 11 inch manila envelope to cover malicious harassment of the anniversary which had been announced in the Washington Times that morning?