Opinion | The Capitol: ‘Don’t Fence Me In’?

To the Editor:

Re “Don’t Permanently Fence the Capitol” (editorial, Jan. 31):

You suggest that the symbolism that surrounds the Capitol is more important than using “architecture” to ensure public safety and criticize the acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda Pittman, for her suggestion that permanent barriers be erected around the Capitol to protect our elected officials, congressional staff and the public.

Your criticism notwithstanding, the chief is right. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle, and to think that the tens of thousands of right-wing radicals across the country are going away any time soon is simply naïve. In times of extreme danger the government must take appropriate measures to thwart attacks. Sadly, this is one of those times. To do otherwise would be ignoring very recent history and would be a dangerous act of nonfeasance.

Andrew Rosenzweig
Westerly, R.I.
The writer is a retired New York Police Department lieutenant.

To the Editor:

“Don’t Permanently Fence the Capitol” is a rallying cry for those who have watched the gradual removal and erosion of public spaces from the civic life of D.C.’s residents and visitors over recent decades. The Capitol grounds are one of America’s most iconic landscapes. They were designed in 1874 by the noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park. The paths, lawns and plantings were carefully designed to make the monumental building pleasantly accessible to all people.

Bollards and policing have already made the grounds less welcoming. Olmsted’s grounds were defiled by the insurrection on Jan. 6. Fencing his design masterwork is an affront to the ideals of democracy that the Capitol grounds represent. They cannot be fenced.

Paul Daniel Marriott
Washington
The writer is an associate professor of landscape architecture at Pennsylvania State University.

To the Editor:

The United States Capitol Historical Society commends you for your editorial. The Capitol is indeed a “tangible manifestation of the idea that the government is a part of American life.” Walling it off will leave the people on the outside looking in, widening the estrangement so many feel from their government.

Throughout our history every attack on our Capitol elicited initial calls for drastic lockdowns. However, each time Congress found a solution to enhance security without diminishing the openness and accessibility of the Capitol, which so beautifully represents the openness of our society.

In response to the 1998 killings of two Capitol Hill police officers, the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, explained why Congress must not close off the people’s house: “The people’s access to their Capitol is the physical manifestation of democracy. It represents something rare and precious, something all Americans take for granted. It represents the bond between those in high office and those who put them there. It represents, in short, our freedom.”

We trust that our history will guide us on enhancing physical security while safeguarding the free and open government that is the envy of the world.

Jane L. Campbell
Washington
The writer is president and chief executive of the United States Capitol Historical Society.

To the Editor:

Temporarily fencing or permanent? Why not a flexible solution? Install 10-foot-high iron fencing that can be sunk into a 10-foot-deep recess. For 99 percent of the time it would be invisible. Immediately following a public warning, at the touch of a switch, hydraulic lifts would raise it to its full height and seal off entry (or exit!).

Herb Feldman
White Plains, N.Y.

To the Editor:

The request of the acting Capitol Police chief to keep a high fence around the Capitol mirrors what we have had at the White House in recent years. Every time there is a security failure on the part of the uniformed Secret Service, which guards the White House perimeter, the reaction is to heighten the fences and widen the perimeter. If the security folks were doing their job properly, it wouldn’t be possible for someone to jump the fence and get all the way into the White House before being stopped, as happened a few years ago.

The Times is entirely right: It’s about competent policing, not architecture, and the need for a democracy not to be seen as hunkered down behind fencing should not be ignored.

Eric Hirschhorn
Chevy Chase, Md.
The writer was an under secretary of commerce during the Obama administration.

To the Editor:

While the symbolic ugliness of the razor-wire fences encircling the Capitol has led to calls to remove them, my feeling is — not yet. Safety must predominate. Only a few weeks ago Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence were threatened with execution. Last month a Republican representative, Andy Harris, attempted to bring a firearm into the House chamber. Republicans are still falsely telling their radicalized followers that the election was “stolen.”

I say leave the fences up for a while and let Democrats periodically remind the country of the party from whose violent members the nation needs protection.

Kip Leitner
Philadelphia

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