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DC Council Reacts to Proposed Capitol Fencing

Thursday afternoon the United States Capitol Police (USCP) Acting Chief of Police Yogananda Pittman released a statement Thursday, Jan. 28 urging vast improvements to the physical security measures around the U.S. Capitol complex.

“In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that the vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces, in close proximity to the Capitol,” the statement read.

Bowser spoke out about the plan on Twitter late Thursday, acknowledging the necessity of public safety but rejecting the idea of long-term fixtures in the District.

“Based on conversations with federal partners, there are some potentially volatile events upcoming that will require extra security,” Bowser said. “Fencing and the presence of troops will be a part of that. But we will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in DC.”

Bowser, who has been in strong support of local businesses removing boards from windows as a part of a broader movement to reopen DC, said that she is in support of removing the Capitol fencing, too.

“When the time is right, the fencing around the White House and US Capitol, just like the plywood we’ve seen on our businesses for too long, will be taken down,” Bowser said.

Map showing general location of fencing around US Capitol. CCN/ Google Maps

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson echoed Bowser in a statement released Thursday evening.

“I am vehemently against this proposal,” Mendelson wrote. “The events of January 6th were disgusting, but they underline the need for better planning & preparation. The answer isn’t turning the Capitol into a military fortress. The people’s house must always be open to the people.”

Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) wrote a letter to Pittman Jan. 26, asking that she work closely with neighbors as she consider security changes at the Capitol. Allen also spoke about his distaste for the fencing in an interview with WUSA’s John Henry Wednesday.

“Temporary security measures have a way of becoming permanent in this town, and it would be unnecessary as well as a tragic loss of access, openness, and public space if current temporary barriers remain in place,” Allen said.

A child on a balance bike looks at security behind fencing around the Spirit of Justice Park, near the US Capitol, Jan. 20, 2021. E.O’Gorek

The increase in security comes following the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection that left six dead. The measures were kept in place for last week’s inauguration, and public officials have supported increased public safety measures citing threats of violence in the wake of the transition of power and the upcoming impeachment trial of former President Trump.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has said such threats are credible in a National Terrorism Advisory Bulletin released yesterday. The advisory will remain in effect until April 30.

21,000 National Guard troops were in the District Jan. 20 to provide security during the inauguration. 15,000 were to be sent home in the ten days following, but federal officials said that 7,500 would remain at least through March 31.

The Capitol complex, where the extra fencing and security measures are in place, is located on federal property. Mayor Bowser and DC Council have no authority to overturn Pittman’s plans.

A request for comment from the office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-D) was not returned in time for publication.

Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with HillRag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at sarahp@hillrag.com.

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