A heightened police presence was evident Tuesday at the District’s annual Emancipation Day parade, where local officials considered the long-term implications for security within the District after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Previous attacks have prompted road closings or checkpoints in the District, but local officials were adamant Tuesday that the city’s public space should remain unfettered.
“D.C. is one of the nation’s great marathon, parade and outdoor event cities and we are going to stay that way,” D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said. “We will not tolerate the barricade approach to terrorism that creates a police state atmosphere in the freest capital city in the world.”
The presence of police and emergency personnel at the parade along Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest was evident but not oppressive, with officers on foot and manning cruisers with flashing lights.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Tuesday there was “never a thought” of canceling the event.
“We are a resilient city, we are a resilient nation and we are going to continue on to preserve freedom,” Mr. Gray said, after walking the parade route with a host of other local politicians, including Mrs. Norton.
After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, federal authorities closed Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to vehicle traffic to the chagrin of local officials. After Sept. 11, E Street Northwest was closed along the south side of the White House along with a handful of streets around the U.S. Capitol complex.
Mrs. Norton said she doesn’t believe the Metropolitan Police Department or federal police agencies will resort to the “19th century practice” of barricading more streets and making more areas of the city off-limits to the public, but she worries whether agencies have adequate plans and resources to protect crowds in public spaces especially given the recent sequester cuts.
“I’m concerned about police presence of the kind and quantity we have always had at major events,” Mrs. Norton said, adding she plans to meet with federal law enforcement agencies to discuss resources. “Unless we design a strategy protect people in large crowds they could become a target.”
Those who marched in the parade ended their route at Freedom Plaza, where D.C. and U.S. flags hung at half staff in honor of the Boston victims. Spectators along the route admitted to some uneasiness over attending the public event, but many said they were not overly concerned.
Seated in a camping chair, spectator Carolyn M. Thomas cheered and waved to those walking in the parade, beckoning over Mr. Gray and D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, at-large Democrat, for a photo. Ms. Thomas, 62, lamented that worry over the deadly explosions in Boston was enough to keep her daughter away from the parade.
“We will never have what we had growing up,” Ms. Thomas, of Southeast, said of the sense of freedom and security that she feels has been lost.
But excitedly rattling off facts about the history of Emancipation Day which commemorates the day in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the D.C. Compensated Emancipation Act and freed 3,100 slaves in the city she said it was too important a holiday not to celebrate.
Some attendees noticed what they perceived to be fewer spectators at the event, though some speculated that could be because 2012 had marked the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Day and the holiday might have received more notice then.
Northwest resident Connie Gibson noted that more bleachers seemed to be positioned along the parade route last year. The four sections of bleachers erected at the parade route’s end, Freedom Plaza, filled steadily as the parade commenced but were never fully occupied.