Lafayette Square, the park directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, reopened to the public Monday morning after being off limits for almost a year. The park, which affords visitors the closest view of the White House of any vantage point, has been surrounded by tall black fencing and concrete barriers since it became ground zero of social justice protests last year after the murder of George Floyd.
Monday morning U.S. Park Police officers quietly created openings that allow visitors into the park. Happily surprised visitors positioned themselves and smiled for selfies as Secret Service officers patrolled the area on bicycles. Fencing still surrounds the square named after the American Revolutionary War hero, but entryways on the northern side of the park allow access to the general public. Pennsylvania Avenue directly in front of the White House remains closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The walling off of Lafayette Square under twice-impeached former president Donald Trump’s administration came to symbolize his authoritarian approach to governing. Last year, at the height of nationwide protests in the wake of Floyd’s murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the park was forcefully cleared by police and National Guard troops who teargassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors.
Once the way had been cleared for him, Trump strode from the White House, across the barricaded Pennsylvania Avenue, through the park and over to St. John’s Church for his infamous upside down Bible photo op.
The U.S. Secret Service as a matter of policy does not comment on the security measures it implements to protect the president and the White House. It did, however, issue a statement that said it “is committed to balancing necessary security measures with the importance of public access and view.”