Protecting our museums

By Dana Allen-Greil

The flags outside of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) are flying at half mast today and its doors are closed. Tragedy befell the museum yesterday when Officer Stephen Johns, who had served the museum for six years, was fatally wounded by a gunman. To its neighbors and peers—USHMM is just a few blocks away from the National Museum of American History and the rest of the National Mall—the attack on the museum, and the motivations of the attacker himself, are heartbreaking.

As Ford Bell, President of the American Association of Museums expressed in a statement yesterday: “Museums have always been among the most safe and secure of public institutions, and museum staff work every day to ensure that they remain so.” Security officers guard our national and community treasures, our sacred memories and monuments. Their jobs also demand that they protect something else that is precious inside museums—the people. Museum staff, volunteers, and visitors owe gratitude to the people who, like Officer Johns, work to protect not only our valued artifacts but ourselves as well.

Our director, Brent D. Glass, said today: “Museums are places of enlightenment. They are supposed to be safe places. This is why the news from the Holocaust Museum is especially shocking to those of us in the museum community.”

At the White House, also just a few blocks away, President Barack Obama said: “This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms. No American institution is more important to this effort than the Holocaust Museum, and no act of violence will diminish our determination to honor those who were lost by building a more peaceful and tolerant world.”

We are thankful to all the men and women in uniform who safeguard us every day. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, its staff and its visitors.

Dana Allen-Greil is the new media project manager at the National Museum of American History.