“Fencing is a 19th-century approach to security that must not become our response to the failures of January 6th”

Map of Fence as of January 28, 2021

From Congresswoman Norton’s Office:

“Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today said that she will do everything in her power to prevent permanent fencing, walls or structures around the U.S. Capitol complex or in the District of Columbia. Norton today sent a letter to the Capitol Police Board opposing the recommendation of Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman for permanent fencing at the Capitol complex. In her letter, Norton called permanent fencing “security theater–it would make the Capitol ‘look’ safe but mask the lack of state-of-the-art security measures that could actually prevent attacks in the future.”

In a separate statement today, Norton said: “Temporary fences at the Capitol are necessary for security now, given the attack of January 6th. However, the attack must not lead to an overreaction that fundamentally changes the people’s house into a fortress against the people. The failure at the Capitol was largely preventable had the Capitol Police called on the assistance of more than a dozen available federal security forces. The planning and calls for people to storm the Capitol were not done in secret, but were done openly for weeks, encouraged by Trump’s hyped claims of a stolen election and his call for people to gather in the District on January 6th, capped by a speech actually urging people to go to the Capitol just before the insurrection occurred.

Fencing is a 19th-century approach to security that must not become our response to the failures of January 6th, when state-of-the-art 21st-century approaches are available and are more effective. I remind the Capitol Police Board that our Founders and the architects of the nation’s capital placed the Capitol in the center of our city, in a neighborhood surrounded by residents. We will not allow the Capitol Hill neighborhood to be turned into a military zone any more than the Capitol itself.”

Norton’s letter follows.

Dear Members of the Capitol Police Board:

I strongly oppose Acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman’s recommendation to install permanent fencing on the Capitol complex. More needs to be done to protect the Capitol complex, but the failure of Capitol security leaders to plan for the predictable terrorist attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, does not justify closing the complex from the public, to whom it belongs. We can and must maintain our commitment to security without sacrificing public access by using the least restrictive means necessary to address security.

The attack on the Capitol was the greatest intelligence and security failure in the history of our nation’s capital. There were countless security failures on January 6th that we can and must address, including: taking threats of extremist violence seriously at an earlier stage; blocking off the Capitol during high-profile and high-threat events, as is typically done, but was not done on January 6th; manpower; and training. Permanent fencing would not address these very real security lapses. Rather, it is another form of security theater–it would make the Capitol “look” safe but mask the lack of state-of-the-art security measures that could actually prevent attacks in the future. Fencing is also incredibly imprecise. It is more likely to keep out children, joggers and tourists than a coordinated attack on the Capitol.

Permanent fencing would send the wrong message to the nation and the world, by transforming our democracy from one that is accessible and of the people to one that is exclusive and fearful of its citizens. It would tell the world that the greatest nation must rely on crude barriers for safety instead of state-of-the-art intelligence and security protocols. The Capitol has welcomed First Amendment protests and demonstrations for centuries without becoming a fortress. The openness of the Capitol and our democracy is our strength, not a security weakness that needs to be rooted out. Any further consideration of permanent fencing is desperate, distasteful and disrespectful of our history and institutions.

Furthermore, I remind you that the Capitol complex does not exist in a vacuum. It is immediately surrounded by residential neighborhoods and local businesses. Permanent fencing would cause serious damage to the fabric of these communities. These residents and businesses have been more than understanding as their neighborhoods have turned into militarized zones for the sake of safety this past month. They have waited patiently as officers check their identification on their walk home and taken alternative routes when they have found blocked streets. Permanent fencing would infringe on their ability, as well as the general public’s ability, to enjoy the public spaces that define our nation’s capital.


Eleanor Holmes Norton”

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