Washington, D.C. -- A group holding a candlelight vigil for cancer research was forced out of Lafayette Square on Saturday night, and hundreds of children with cancer were kicked out of the park along with their parents. The Secret Service and the National Park police barricaded the park for hours, stating that the gathering created a traffic issue.
The event was called CureFest for Childhood Cancer and was attended by hundreds who wanted to raise awareness about cancer research.
Natasha Gould, an 11-year-old from Canada who has started a website for children like herself who struggle with cancer, said that the police and government agents acted like they didn't care about the children.
“We ended up waiting at the gates for two hours, and they never let us in. And to be clear, the entire crowd was half kids. I cried last night in my hotel room because it was my first CureFest, and I couldn’t believe people were acting like they don’t care about children,” Natasha said.
Brian Leary, a spokesman for the Secret Service, made a statement to the Washington Post defending the closure, saying that the agency “put into place based on standard [Secret Service] protocols prior to protectee movements in the vicinity of the White House Complex. 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.”
The organizers even went through the trouble of getting a permit for the event, which shouldn't even be necessary in a place where "freedom of assembly," is supposed to be assumed as a natural right.
When they were cleared from the park, the many attendees were forced to leave their chairs, blankets, and other property behind.
Some of the police officers on the scene told attendees that the closure was due to president Obama leaving the White House from an entrance that was near the park.
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The parents who had gathered to support their children became angry after they realized what was happening.
“At first, we were patient. I mean we’re a peaceful community; we’re fighting for kids’ lives. But after about an hour, or hour and a half, it started getting a little angry, some of the fathers,” Anthony Stoddard, a father who traveled to the event from New Hampshire said.
“Police were telling a lot of people in our group to leave because it was so close to the road there was a traffic issue. It got really frustrating. No one was giving us answers about when we would get in. So finally, about 10:30, we gave up. It was heartbreaking,” he added.
The organizers of the event felt that this problem was caused by incompetence on the part of the Secret Service.
“I feel like this may be overcompensating for glaring errors that the Secret Service has made in past years. And again, we understand the need to keep our president safe. But we think a little consideration would have gone a long way. When we get shut out of the president’s front yard, it’s just disheartening,” event organizer Michael Gillette said.
Update: Since this story began making the rounds on the internet, the secret service felt the pressure to apologize and has done so.
According to the Post,
The head of the Secret Service apologized for how a group of children suffering from cancer and their supporters were treated after they said they were pushed out of Lafayette Square on Saturday night.
Joseph Clancy, director of the Secret Service, called one of the organizers on Monday after CureFest for Childhood Cancer said that about 700 parents and children were ordered out of the park in front of the White House for at least two hours. The move disrupted their plans for a candlelight vigil to raise awareness and research funding for childhood cancer.
Mike Gillette, one of the group’s organizers and a documentary filmmaker in the Fairfax area, said Clancy called him Monday and said that he was “very sorry” and that the agency “did not handle the situation well.” A spokeswoman for the Secret Service confirmed that Clancy made the call and said the agency plans to review some of its policies on closures.
John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter-culture and the drug war. In addition to his writing and activist work, he organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference, which features top caliber speakers and whistle-blowers from all over the world. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can find his 65 chapter Book entitled “Alchemy of the Timeless Renaissance” at bookpatch.com.