Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Vice Chair Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt today pushing for an explanation of why U.S. Park Police have walled off public access to President’s Park, a normally open area across the street from the White House that is managed by the National Park Service (NPS).
Among other questions, the lawmakers ask Bernhardt what credible threat the closure is based on, and whether White House perimeter security was “lacking prior to erection of this new fencing.” The letter is available online at https://bit.ly/3dynSFJ.
“Like many other sites and monuments managed by NPS in Washington, D.C., the grounds surrounding the White House are set aside to facilitate the exercise of First Amendment rights,” the lawmakers write, noting that NPS itself describes President’s Park as a space to “[p]rovide a large open area associated with the White House for freedom of public expression and assembly activities, as well as for public use and enjoyment.”
In addition to the immediate justification for the move, the lawmakers seek more information about the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) level of involvement in the decision to erect the new fencing, whether such a complete closure has previously been ordered, how long the barricades will remain, when lawful demonstrations will be allowed to resume, and what criteria Bernhardt has issued to U.S. Park Police in deciding what crowd control measures to institute on federal property under DOI’s jurisdiction.
“The First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly are core to what it means to be an American,” the lawmakers write. “The protestors at Lafayette Square complied with the curfew set forth by local officials. They were exercising their rights under the First Amendment. They were assembled peacefully and posed no obvious threat.”