I witnessed an event near Lafayette Square a few weeks ago that I found disturbing. A child, accompanied by his family, attempted to climb partway up the fence outside the White House so he could be seen better in a group photo. A nearby uniformed Secret Service officer immediately reacted by running toward the group, her hand on her gun, screaming, “Get down!”

I understand the need for security in this post-Sept. 11 world, but this officer’s reaction was out of proportion to the infraction. A simple verbal warning would have sufficed. The offender wasn’t an armed adult; he was a kid posing for a snapshot with his family. Now he will remember the White House not as a shrine of democracy belonging to the people but as the place where you dare not step out of line.

Uniformed Secret Service officers represent authority in Washington, and their interactions with the public matter. This kind of heavy-handedness subverts the idea of Washington as a place for all Americans to visit to appreciate their democratic freedoms. 

M. Alexander Gray, Annandale