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What have we become?
(Published January 10, 2005)

For Americans who cherish the Bill of Rights, it is difficult to rationalize the extreme measures being contemplated in the name of "security" that will be imposed upon citizens and visitors in coming days as parts of the nation's capital are locked down to facilitate events associated with the presidential inauguration.

In this case, it is especially important to distinguish between the official swearing-in of the president and vice president on Jan. 20 a legally required element of U.S. government structure and the celebratory activities that precede or follow the ceremony.

We have heard no objections raised to what has become fairly routine security when the president visits the U.S. Capitol, where the oaths of office will be administered, as tradition dictates.

It is the security measures being planned for the latter events i.e., the "official" parties, but parties nonetheless that many are questioning. One locally elected official, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Alex Padro, has aptly described the planned barricading of the neighborhood adjacent to the Washington Convention Center as imposition of "martial law."

Thousands of residents and business owners, especially in Shaw but also in areas abutting the location of other inaugural festivities that the president plans to attend, have been informed unilaterally that Secret Service requirements for protecting the president will restrict access to and use of their property.

Residents will be required to produce identity documents bearing an address within the security perimeter to gain access to their homes. Those unable to do so, including family members and guests, will be barred from the area. Residents returning home from work on Jan. 20 will not be permitted to park their cars near their homes. Intermittent interruption of Metrorail service to some stations near inaugural balls is expected, and street closures will necessitate re-routing of some Metrobuses. Access to the only supermarket and pharmacy in the neighborhood surrounding the convention center will be limited. Jersey barriers, installed to impede traffic for security reasons, also will restrict access for emergency vehicles.

Unfortunately, Padro seems to be the only local official raising his voice to defend D.C. citizens' rights against these government intrusions. Both Mayor Anthony Williams and the District's chief legal officer, Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti, were out of town hobnobbing last week when news of the security restrictions broke. They have not publicly commented. Some Metropolitan Police officers privately express concerns about the restrictions but note that their department takes its marching orders from the Secret Service when presidential security is involved.

Even the District's delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who usually champions local citizenship rights, postponed a scheduled discussion of the security restrictions with federal officials so that she could rail against alleged voting irregularities in Ohio during House debate. Later, following what her office described as "a detailed briefing" on Jan. 7, Norton issued a statement explaining that "inconveniences are necessary."

Freedom of movement? Freedom of association? Security within citizens' own homes? Sorry. If you are not among the elite invited to party with the president to celebrate America's democratic institutions, you will be out of luck.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator