The US Secret Service ordered hundreds of parents and their children out of a park across from the White House Saturday night, disrupting the group’s plans for a candlelight vigil to raise awareness of and funding for childhood cancer, reports say.
In a statement that included an apology, agency spokesman Brian Leary said they had to move the group, which had gathered at the storied Lafayette Square park, located just north of the White House, as part of a two-day event called CureFest for Childhood Cancer. Mr. Leary said that the decision had been based on "standard US Secret Service protocols" while President Obama was being driven to a nearby event, according to CNN.
“The Secret Service would like to express its regret for not communicating more effectively with this group concerning the timeline for protectee movements in the vicinity of Lafayette Park,” according to the statement.
Some have said the agency’s actions may have been a response to a number of cases over the last few years that, as The Christian Science Monitor previously reported, have called to question its ability to both protect the first family and behave judiciously while on duty.
In the last year, the agency has faced a government inquiry, a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing, and a top-level resignation over management concerns. As the Monitor reported:
Last October, a government investigation criticized a Secret Service assignment that took agents from their duty near the White House and sent them to the rural Maryland home of a headquarters employee involved in a personal dispute with a neighbor, the Associated Press reported.
Last year, Congress launched an investigation of the Secret Service following a series of security breaches and scandals, including several fence-jumping incidents. In one of those, a man with a knife scaled the White House fence and made it all the way to the East Room. Then-Director Julia Pierson resigned in the wake of a government investigation that found that lack of training, poor decisionmaking, and communication problems were contributing factors.
This latest incident barred about 700 people from participating in a candlelight vigil in the park for the two hours the Secret Service closed and guarded the area – despite the group having obtained a permit to use the park between 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday night.
“I feel like this may be overcompensating for glaring errors that the Secret Service has made in past years. And...we understand the need to keep our president safe,” organizer Michael Gillette, a documentary filmmaker from Fairfax City, Va, told The Washington Post. “But we think a little consideration would have gone a long way.”