After Salahi incident, some blacks say Secret Service isn't vigilant enough

By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 1, 2010

Virginia socialites Tareq and Michaele Salahi's crashing of President Obama's first state dinner in the White House on Nov. 24 prompted a ripple of concern among African Americans nationwide that lingers still.

"You are talking probably 100 percent concern about the president's safety from my listeners," said Joe Madison, known as "the Black Eagle," who hosts a popular nationwide radio program that attracts mostly African American listeners. "People are worried. My callers think there's not the intensity to protect this president given his unique history. It shouldn't be business as usual."

On the streets of Washington last week, the concern was palpable.

Joseine Applewhite, a 40-year-old legal assistant from the District, said she is worrying about Obama's safety. "I think the Secret Service needs to step up their game a little bit," she said. "After all, the first lady was there on the night of the state dinner, and I believe the kids were also. I think a lot of black folks are angry about it. And why weren't the Salahis arrested? Black folks are asking themselves that question. I am just upset about all of it."

Doug Pierce, 38, who was touring downtown Washington with his family from Cleveland, Tenn., where he works as a cook, also questioned whether the Secret Service is doing an adequate job.

"They allowed that couple to get in there, so obviously someone's not doing their job," Pierce said, standing near the White House gates. "You can't help worrying about the president. He's a black man, and it's probably a lot of people out in the world trying to get to him."

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A poll conducted Dec. 9 by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics showed that 48 percent of black respondents were just somewhat or not at all confident in the Secret Service's ability to protect the president, compared with 37 percent who answered the same question in a poll conducted Jan. 9, less than two weeks before Obama's inauguration. The comparable figures for white respondents were 37 percent and 32 percent.

Many blacks as well as whites think Obama is in greater danger of assassination than some previous presidents because of his historic role. There are also some blacks who suspect -- rightly or wrongly -- that the Secret Service won't work as hard to protect a black president, a point of view that has its roots in the nation's complicated racial history.

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, who recently was called before a congressional committee worried about the security breach at the White House, said the agency is well aware of this suspicion but disagrees with it. The Secret Service is committing more resources to the security of the first family than it ever has, Sullivan said.

"Regardless of who the president is, we know there's always someone out there who wants to harm the president," Sullivan said. "The fact that he's African American has never been lost on us."

Sullivan noted that citizens have been quick to contact the agency to report worries. "We want the public to be engaged," he said in an interview at his H Street office. "We know the consequences of what could happen if we don't do our job right."

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