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Public Statements

Letter to Director Julia Pierson, Secret Service - Security During March on Washington Anniversary

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today wrote to Secret Service Director Julia Pierson requesting an immediate meeting following the organizational breakdown at yesterday's 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington on the National Mall. A security checkpoint backup at the general public entrance resulted in many marchers unable to enter the event and long lines in the heat and rain, with reported hospitalizations. Though the area is generally under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (NPS), Norton was informed that due to the nature of the event, the Secret Service was tasked with security operations and was therefore responsible for the "the massive failure to organize, prepare and coordinate to receive visitors at yesterday's 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington," as she wrote in her letter.

Norton, in her letter, continued, "The congestion at the security check point at the general public entrance to the event caused huge lines and wait times, which left visitors, many of them elderly, frustrated and even ill and overcome by the heat and rainÂ…Because I meet with the Secret Service and other agencies on planning for inaugurations, I am well aware of the standards for effectively controlling large crowds, which your agency is capable of meeting. I am, therefore, very disappointed that you failed to prevent an organizational breakdown that was entirely unnecessary."

The full text of Norton's letter follows.

Dear Director Pierson:

Along with thousands of others, I am outraged by the massive failure to organize, prepare and coordinate to receive visitors at yesterday's 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. The congestion at the security check point at the general public entrance to the event caused huge lines and wait times, which left visitors, many of them elderly, frustrated and even ill and overcome by the heat and rain. It is inexcusable that people had to wait on their feet for long hours in such hot and humid conditions, that a number of people fainted, that the D.C. Fire and EMS Department had to give medical assistance to over 100 people, and that some had to be hospitalized. As a result of your poor planning and execution, many were unable to attend and participate in the event altogether.

The Secret Service was confronted with an unusual challenge in the need for heightened security yesterday because three presidents attended and spoke at the event. However, you are the most experienced in the country in the work of managing presidential inaugurations and other events that draw crowds much larger than yesterday's March, using advanced planning and coordination. Because I meet with the Secret Service and other agencies on planning for inaugurations, I am well aware of the standards for effectively controlling large crowds, which your agency is capable of meeting. I am, therefore, very disappointed that you failed to prevent an organizational breakdown that was entirely unnecessary. There is no doubt that the many failures could have been prevented. Security personnel belatedly added magnetometers and hand-held metal detector wands to speed up the long delays, showing that with routine, advanced planning, the misery your agency caused could have been avoided.

My office will call to set up a meeting with you for the earliest possible date.

Sincerely,
Eleanor Holmes Norton
CC: Jonathan Jarvis, Director, National Park Service


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