WASHINGTON (TIP): Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland was at the grocery store the other day when he ran into an elderly black woman who expressed growing concern about President Obama’s safety. Why, she asked, wasn’t he being better protected by his Secret Service agents?
The furore that led to this week’s resignation of the director of the Secret Service resonated deeply among blacks, outraged that those supposed to be guarding the first black president were somehow falling down on the job — and suspicious even without evidence that it may be deliberate. “It is something that is widespread in black circles,” said Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, who like Cummings is an African-American Democrat who has been approached by voters expressing such a concern. “I’ve been hearing this for some time: ‘Well, the Secret Service, they’re trying to expose the president.’ You hear a lot of that from African-Americans in particular.”
Both Cummings and Cleaver said that they did not believe the Secret Service lapses reported recently had anything to do with Obama’s race and that they had tried to dispel the notion among their constituents. But the profound doubts they have encountered emphasize the nation’s persistent racial divide and reflect an abiding fear for Obama’s security that has unnerved blacks still mindful of the assassinations of Malcolm X and the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
It is a longstanding fear. Colin Powell’s wife urged him not to run for president in 1996 out of fear that he might be targeted. And when Obama took office in January 2009, the Secret Service recorded an alarming surge in threats against him. The threat level since then has actually fallen back to a rate more typical of previous presidents, officials said, but potential racial animosity persists in risk calculations by the Secret Service as it seeks to protect Obama.
The Secret Service does not discuss the nature of threats against Obama in much detail, but said the agency was fervently devoted to his security. “The Secret Service is committed to protecting the first family and the president at all costs,” said Ed Donovan, an agency spokesman. “We recognize that protecting the president is a sacred trust we have with the US public and that they place in us. It’s never mattered to the service who the president is because we recognize that trust.”