The Secret Service ejected hundreds of young cancer patients and their parents from Lafayette Square near the White House in Washington, D.C., Saturday night because of President Obama’s schedule.
Citing security precautions, the Secret Service and Park Police shuttered the park for upwards of two hours and prevented the group’s planned candlelight vigil to spotlight and raise money for childhood cancer as part of a two-day CureFest for Childhood Cancer event.
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The Washington Post reported:
Some of the sick children, fatigued by the wait or the need to receive medication, had to return to their hotel rooms, organizers said. Others began crying, and some parents became enraged. Attendees said the group of at least 700 people was not allowed access to personal items they left behind, such as chairs and blankets. Police officers and agents on the scene told some parents that the closure was necessary because President Obama had left the White House from an entrance near the square to address the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual gala.
The group was kicked out of the park despite having obtained a permit for the event. Organizers began holding the candlelight vigil last year after the White House refused to light up the mansion in demonstration of support for the cause.
Michael Gillette, one of the event’s organizers, criticized the Secret Service for its actions.
"I feel like this may be overcompensating for glaring errors that the Secret Service has made in past years," Gillette said. "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."
Initially, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said Sunday that the closures, which spanned Lafayette Park as well as parts of Pennsylvania Avenue, were "put into place based on standard [Secret Service] protocols prior to protectee movements in the vicinity of the White House Complex."
On Monday, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy called Gillette to apologize and admitted the agency "did not handle the situation well."