Last Friday, Omar. J. Gonzalez, a retired Iraq war veteran who was showing signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, was able to jump the fence of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, run across the North Lawn, and enter the unlocked front doors of the president’s home before being stopped by the Secret Service.
Now, Secret Service officials are considering changes such as extending the perimeter around the White House where pedestrians are banned and forcing tourists to go through screening a couple blocks from the presidential mansion.
The American people, the residents of the District of Columbia, and those visiting our nation’s capital with no other intention than to see its sights should not be punished for a problem they did not cause.
Gonzalez was able to reach the front doors of the White House because of a procedural error the Secret Service made. When someone, who is deemed to be unarmed, jumps the fence, the Secret Service is supposed to release a dog subdue them and stop them from getting any closer to the mansion. In this case, the dog was not released.
Gonzalez, as it turns out, was not unarmed – he was carrying a small, serrated knife with him. 800 rounds of ammunition, a machete, and two hatchets were also found in his car, and in a federal prosecution hearing, he was found to be a danger to the president.
The Secret Service has been under a lot of scrutiny for problems with their performance. Two years ago, Secret Service agents in Cartagena, Colombia got in trouble for soliciting prostitutes and then trying to leave them before paying them. In March, two agents in Amsterdam were sent home for drinking after one of them was found passed out in a hotel hallway.
Gonzalez’s case is a specific one – obviously, most people who visit the White House are not there to jump the fence and get through the front doors. At the same time, they should understand the risks posed to those who hold office, and have procedures – ones that they actually follow – to ensure their safety. A government should show that they trust their people, not fear them.
Dehumanizing citizens by physically pushing them further from our leaders and our government buildings is not the right way to do that.