A Washington Post reporter covering a speech by Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan at Morgan State University in Baltimore Thursday night said she was forcibly detained by a Nation of Islam security guard who grabbed her arm, patted her down, pushed her and rummaged through her purse.
The incident occurred after reporter Susan Schmidt was denied access to public telephones in the auditorium lobby, left the building to find a phone and attempted to reenter the building to finish covering the speech.
Schmidt said she attempted to protest the treatment she received to Heyward B. Hamlin Jr., chief of the Morgan State campus police, but was told she must accept the Muslim search if she wanted to get back into the auditorium.
"The campus police were there, but they were sort of taking a back seat to the Muslims," she said.
Hamlin could not be reached yesterday. Maj. Richard Turner, second in command of the campus police at the publicly funded state university, denied that police had yielded their authority to the Black Muslims. He also discounted Schmidt's version of events, saying she had "distorted what happened."
Turner said that Schmidt was "handled in a courteous manner. She was belligerent. Her behavior was totally inappropriate."
Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson did not return a reporter's phone calls. Francis Dates, chairman of the board of regents of the predominantly black institution, said, "It would be my opinion the campus police force is adequate to handle any problems of a normal nature." He declined to comment on the incident.
A woman answering the phone at the Nation of Islam headquarters in Chicago said no one was available to comment.
Frank P. L. Somerville, religion editor of The Baltimore Sun, said he and other members of the media covering the event were subjected to a "weird combination of preferential press treatment and animosity." They were escorted to special seats in the auditorium, he said, before becoming objects of Farrakhan's accusatory rhetoric.
Somerville and Schmidt said that Muslims attempted to stop them from interviewing others present in the auditorium. Somerville said a Sun photographer was barred from leaving for a period of time after the program.
Most persons entering the building where Farrakhan spoke were subjected to more than one search, first by campus security guards and then by Nation of Islam operatives. After entering the building, men and women were separated for the second search, with women being directed to a makeshift anteroom behind a curtain in the corridor, Schmidt said.
Martin Evans, a reporter for The Baltimore News-American, said he was searched three times, once by a uniformed officer and twice within a few feet by pairs of men he presumed to be Black Muslims.
Schmidt said when she returned after making a phone call down the block, "A Muslim woman grabbed my arm and directed me into the anteroom again." She said the ensuing body search "seemed to go on forever."
She said the woman who searched her then rummaged through her satchel and purse, asked to see her tape recorder and started "flipping through the pages of my notebook in a taunting way. I grabbed the notebook out of her hands."
After three or four minutes, Schmidt said she told the woman, "You're trying to hassle me." Schmidt said the woman insisted she submit to further searching by a metal detector. "She was getting very rough with me, pushing me and grabbing me," Schmidt said.
Schmidt said she pulled away into the lobby with the woman holding onto her arm and then asked the campus police chief, "Do I have to submit to this?" She said he told her she did.