Below is the text of a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi from the DC Council regarding the fence around the perimeter of the US Capitol complex:
February 23, 2021
The Honorable Charles E. Schumer Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515
Dear Leader Schumer and Speaker Pelosi,
As local elected representatives of the District of Columbia, which includes the Capitol Hill residential neighborhood in which the United States Capitol is located, we write in opposition to any permanent expansion of the security perimeter surrounding the United States Capitol Complex or any loss of public access to the Capitol grounds and adjacent public space. We share these concerns on behalf of our constituents while the horrific events of January 6 are still fresh in our collective memory, not only as Americans, but as your neighbors who witnessed and experienced the trauma of the insurrection in person. And we add our voices to the work of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and her efforts to have the fence removed, and we are grateful for all she has done thus far.
We also write this letter on behalf of the millions of Americans and visitors from abroad who travel annually to walk the grounds of the “People’s House,” to stand in awe of the beauty of the Capitol dome, and experience its grandeur from all sides, up close. Even as we fight for full representation in this very building, we recognize that public accessibility to it is essential. It facilitates the necessary closeness between the government and the governed that is fundamental to our democracy, and must be held in the highest regard as both a symbol of our republic and integral to our local community.
The security of the Capitol Complex – for lawmakers, staff, visitors, and neighbors – is a top priority for the District of Columbia government and its residents. However, a hardened security perimeter topped with razor wire is the wrong solution for the failures that took place on January 6. Further, with the Secretary of Defense announcing that all National Guard members will be
departing the Capitol Complex by March 14, 2021, the external security posture at the Capitol needs to change as well.
We must also insist that you understand the erection of this fence does not take place in a vacuum. The fencing that closes Independence and Constitution Avenues has created significant delays in the District’s emergency response system by requiring fire, emergency medical, and police vehicles to use longer and less direct routes. In addition, this fencing has impacted our local democracy and the legislative operations of the Council with barriers and delays to the transmission of laws for legally-required Congressional review, something that would end with the District of Columbia becoming the 51st state in our union. And further, the fencing and street closures have deeply impacted transportation for residents to work, school, healthcare, and other needs – whether traveling by bus, foot, bike, or vehicle. These impacts will only grow in the coming months as the District returns to a more active and open operational posture with COVID-19 transmission decreasing and vaccinations increasing.
We are grateful for the tremendous bravery of the men and women of the United States Capitol Police, and acknowledge their many contributions and losses in the defense of our country on January 6. We also must note the response of DC’s Metropolitan Police Department in retaking the Capitol from armed insurrectionists and the losses and injuries they sustained in coming to the Capitol’s aid. But with all due respect, it was not the lack of a permanent fence or a hardened perimeter that led to the breach of the Capitol by armed insurrectionists. It was overlooking or dismissing the widely known planning by extremist groups that took place out in the open in the months and days leading up to January 6, and the failure of our nation’s intelligence apparatus to take seriously white supremacist violence, much of which has already been acknowledged in ongoing congressional oversight.
We offer our full support and partnership to both investigate the deficiencies that led to the failures on January 6 and implement any changes in command or planning needed to ensure those events will never be repeated. But permanent fencing, blocked streets, or diminished public access is not the way to secure the Capitol.
The District, in partnership with federal agencies, is adept at quickly securing sensitive locations in advance of significant special events and restoring public space and access immediately after. We stand ready to work in partnership with you to secure not only the Capitol Complex, but also the surrounding neighborhoods. We have done this for decades with little lost in either effective security or accessible public space.
As elected officials, we too are asked to balance accessibility and security daily and know it is a complex but crucial endeavor. Maintaining public access to the Capitol Complex is both in keeping with landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s original vision for the space as a physical manifestation of our lively and vibrant democracy, but also with the Capitol as part of an equally lively and vibrant residential neighborhood. Washingtonians take great pride in sharing the Capitol with out-of-town guests or simply traversing its expansive grounds as they go about their daily lives.
We stand ready to work with you to ensure the safety of the United States Capitol, including all elected representatives, visitors, and staff, and appreciate your attention to the importance of continued public access to the Capitol Complex.
Councilmember Charles Allen, Ward 6
Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau, Ward 1
Councilmember Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5
Councilmember Trayon White, Sr., Ward 8
Councilmember Elissa Silverman, At-Large
Councilmember Christina Henderson, At-Large
Chairman Phil Mendelson
Councilmember Brooke Pinto, Ward 2
Councilmember Janeese Lewis George, Ward 4
Councilmember Vincent C. Gray, Ward 7
Councilmember Anita Bonds, At-Large
Councilmember Robert C. White, Jr., At-Large
cc: The Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton, District of Columbia
J. Brett Blanton, Architect of the Capitol
Yogananda Pittman, Acting Chief – United States Capitol Polic