The National Park Police had a large, disruptive and unnecessary presence at the Earth Day rally held on Sunday, April 25. A couple of contributors who attended the rally felt the Park Police's actions seemed at best silly or, at worst, oppressive. (This post was originally posted on Greater Greater Washington)

The rally was held on the National Mall between Madison and Jefferson Streets just a little bit east of the carousel. I arrived early in the afternoon and was able to ride my bike to within 40-50 yards of the stage, where I locked it up. (I later noticed the valet bike parking area and moved my bike there.)

Access to the area in front of the stage was open to anyone on the Mall. Barriers surrounded the sound and video towers, The area fenced off seemed excessively large, but they did not present any problems.

People were standing up close to the stage enjoying the music. Others had found space to spread a blanket. Others were taking advantage of the shade under the trees on the north side of the Mall. A couple blocks to the west were a number of booths and exhibits related to Earth Day, and many people would walk from the stage area to the booths and back as their interests guided them.

Everything worked great until about 3 o'clock, when the Park Police started erecting barriers in a long line running north and south between Jefferson and Madison Streets. The barrier was about 50 yards back from the stage and included three small openings guarded by officers and limited to people exiting.

However, the fence did not prevent people from moving to any location on the Mall by simply walking around the end. In fact, the officers directed people to do exactly that.

What's the purpose of a fence that anyone could circumvent just by walking around the end? When asked, the police said, "crowd control." But if the crowd could go anywhere it pleased, what were they controlling?

They also erected a giant "mobile wall" on Jefferson Avenue. It's purpose was inscrutable. It was not connected to any other fencing; it was just a giant wall.

Having the Park Police there as a presence to help with potential incidents and to help with security is a good idea. But why put up all these barriers that serve no purpose? The crowd was controlling itself just fine for the first several hours of the event.

This was not like the inauguration. The crowd was not so large, and everyone could find a comfortable place to sit or stand. People who like to be squished could squeeze in front of the stage; people who like to spread out could find a place to put a blanket on the grass. Everyone's happy.

Without a fence and giant wall to attend to, the police could have wandered the crowd and had a more comprehensive presence. Or perhaps they could have handled the whole event with half the force and saved some taxpayer money.

We'd welcome comments from anyone else who may have attended this event or from anyone who can explain the strange behavior of the Park Police.

(Photos by M.V. Jantzen)

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