Community Reacts to Long-Term Capitol Fence Plans

669
Capitol Hill resident Karen Pence's kindergarten daughter plays with a frisbee on the Capitol grounds before its closure in late January.

In the wake of the Capitol insurrection, an unscalable fence and barbed wire have surrounded the Capitol since January. Last week, the US Capitol Police (USCP) requested that the fencing be left in place until September citing ongoing security threats to members of Congress. 

While turning the Capitol into a fortress may seem appealing from a security perspective, many residents of the Capitol Hill neighborhoods are concerned about the militarization of the Capitol grounds and the back yard where their families work and play. 

Community Businesses 

Kaitlin Calogera is licensed tour guide in the District and the founder of local DC tour company A Tour of Her Own. She said the increased security measures after the insurrection only added to the challenges presented to the tourism industry through the course of the pandemic. 

“When the Capitol insurrection happened it really flipped everything upside down,” Calogera said. “Most of the history that people are seeking out is situated on Capitol Hill and the fences that have gone up around these areas has really prevented us from sharing the history and education.” 

Calogera emphasized the importance of education in this time. Government should recognize that, she said, rather than putting up physical barriers to the buildings that tourists and locals alike want to see and in doing so, learn about the history of the nation and the way that government operates. 

“The fence is absolutely not keeping our community safe,” Calogera said. “Fences create fear and the way to keep our community safe is to educate people that are coming to the Capitol.” 

Community Voices 

Capitol Hill resident Karen Pence lives a few blocks away from the Capitol complex and said she could hear the events of Jan. 6 from her street. Pence echoed the sentiment of Calogera, calling the fence an “enormous bummer.” 

Pence also has a kindergartener who loves to play outside and recently learned to ride her bike on the Capitol Plaza. She said the closures have impacted what activities are available to kids, especially with most other activities and places closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“She would run through the sprinklers of the Supreme Court and play soccer with our friends at the Library of Congress lawn,” Pence said. “It’s not just the Capitol, it’s these other spaces too and they are the largest outdoor spaces anywhere around here.” 

Pence said the fence does not make her feel safer and emphasized that she believes the political rhetoric that led to the violence was created within the enclosure that aims to keep people out.   

“It just feels threatening and ugly,” Pence said. “The craziest thing about this fence is that it was really a danger that was stoked within the Capitol and [by] our politicians encouraging false narratives and violence. A fence doesn’t really have anything to do with that.” 

Joel Crooms is also a long time resident of the District. He said the glaring issue is lack of access to the Capitol and surrounding areas. He sees it as the continuing escalation of a move to restrict the spaces of the Capitol grounds that has taken place over the past few decades. 

That escalation of security is taking away the connection between the people of the nation and the District to the spaces that define us, he said.

“When my children were little we had a lot more access,” Crooms said. “The people in the riot claimed the Capitol was their place, but we actually felt like it was our place.” 

Crooms emphasized that the fencing makes him feel like he is “in a different country” and said the fencing is doing little to make him feel safer. 

“One of the things I always prided myself on was bringing my relatives here,” Crooms said. “The fence is really disheartening. It just doesn’t feel good. It feels like they are protecting themselves from the people.” 

In Conversation with Congress

Local officials agree. On Tuesday, the DC Council penned a letter to Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) stating unified opposition to the post-insurrection fence. The letter cited its impact on the surrounding neighborhoods and local community members. 

“A hardened security perimeter topped with razor wire is the wrong solution for the failures that took place on Jan. 6,” the letter reads. “With the Secretary of Defense announcing that all National Guard members will be departing the Capitol Complex by March 14, the external security posture of the Capitol needs to change as well.” 

The council also pointed out that the fence is also a barrier for governing and government services. Physical paper copies of all new District laws must be hand-delivered separately to Senate and House leadership. DC Council had to ask Vice President Kamala Harris (D) to intervene in order for District legislation to reach the Capitol.

The letter notes that the fence has also caused “significant delays” in the District’s emergency response system requiring police, fire and ambulances to take less direct routes. Additionally, council members outlined several issues with transportation for locals commuting to work, school and to access healthcare due to the security measures. 

“It was not the lack of a permanent fence or hardened perimeter that led to the breach of the Capitol by armed insurrectionists,” the letter reads. “It was the overlooking or dismissing of the widely known planning by extremist groups that took place out in the open.”

Read Scott Martin is also a long time Capitol Hill resident. He said that while the fence is inconvenient, the bigger problem is what the structure represents. He said it has been a difficult adjustment. 

“Were human beings that live on Capitol Hill and I think what we saw was a failure of management and of the Capitol police, and the fence is not going to solve the problems,” Scott Martin said.

“We all love the Capitol and it’s part of our front yard. It’s hard not to feel that it’s personal to everyone who lives (here) and everyone in the country.” 

Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with Capital Community News. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at [email protected].