This time, “cancel culture” has come for pre-schoolers. This past Sunday, the nation’s capital had its largest measurable snowfall in two years.
In prior times, children who wanted to enjoy the wintry weather would flock to the west front of the U.S. Capitol Building, whose gentle slopes make for some of the best sledding or snow tubing in greater Washington. The event has become so commonplace that four years ago the Architect of the Capitol (the real “AOC”) published guidance and tips for anyone wishing to partake in this winter tradition.
But instead of frolicking children, anyone who dared venture near Capitol Hill this weekend would have found a much more intimidating sight: Two separate layers of fencing, topped with razor wire, prohibiting entry for “unauthorized” guests:
The scene represents the virtual fortress that has erupted in Washington since the Jan. 6 Capitol riots — a sad commentary on modern American society.
District Officials Want to Open Up
Somewhat surprisingly, local leaders in the District of Columbia, most of them Democrats, finally found a lockdown they wish to end.
Because weather forecasts had predicted snow for several days, congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton released a statement requesting permission for children to sled on the Capitol grounds. She noted that beginning in 2015, she has had inserted specific language requiring the Capitol Police to open the Capitol grounds to sledding (yes, the security state tried to stop sledding at the Capitol after 9/11, and yes, Congress had to act to stop the insanity)
Norton made an eloquent case for sledding, pointing out that “children across America have endured an extremely challenging year” given both the coronavirus pandemic and seemingly perpetual shutdowns of public schools. As one might expect, however, the Capitol Police denied the request, citing the “current security posture, COVID-19 restrictions, and the deconstruction of the Inaugural platform.”
The denial came mere days after the Capitol Police’s acting chief, Yogananda Pittman, said in a statement that “vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure [of the Capitol] must be made, to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol.”
Local Neighborhood, or Police State?
As someone who has lived and worked in Washington for decades, much of that time living on Capitol Hill, Pittman’s statement, and the general security posture after the Jan. 6 riots, has a feel of déjà vu. After each terror incident, security gets ratcheted up, and rarely if ever (and only begrudgingly) to get ratcheted down.
Shortly before I arrived in Washington for college, the Oklahoma City bombings shut down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. When I returned from grad school after 9/11, I remember on several occasions being shocked at the physical transformation of Washington after the attacks. Officials shut off several blocks of streets around the Capitol complex to vehicular traffic and put bollards designed to prevent car or truck bombs around seemingly every federal building in Washington.
Some of the security changes had a logic to them. I remember quite vividly that, early on Sept. 11, 2001 — hours before the terrorist attacks later that morning — former Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, appeared on CNN to discuss the need to construct a Capitol Visitors Center. The events of that day ultimately led to the building of such a venue, which increased security while providing a better experience to the millions of people who visit the Capitol complex every year.
‘Tear Down This Wall!’
While I didn’t like it, I understood the need for an increased security presence in Washington for the inauguration, after the horrific violence and rioting that took place on Jan. 6 and the fear of attacks afterward. But at a certain point, security efforts go too far, particularly when they become a permanent fixture.
It shouldn’t take a Reaganesque speech in front of the fencing that surrounds the Capitol to understand the poor optics of making such temporary measures permanent — to say nothing of having a permanent “army” (or the equivalent thereof) should rioting ever recur. Thankfully, local officials have stated their opposition to these changes. Hopefully, their views, along with pushback from federal lawmakers, will prevent the excesses the Capitol Police proposed.
In the short term, however, there’s a far better solution. Instead of closing the Capitol grounds to sledders to keep it open for lawmakers, why not reverse the roles. Given how lawmakers in the Capitol often act like children (and the rioters who stormed it far worse), why not close the Capitol to lawmakers so the sledders can return. And when winter changes to summer, then maybe — just maybe, if they behave — we can let Congress return.