Blacks question Obama's security


Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 3:42 p.m.

The gate-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, who hosts a popular nationwide radio program that attracts mostly black 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."

Joseine Applewhite, a 40-year-old legal assistant, said she is worrying about Obama's safety. "I think the Secret Service needs to step up their game a little bit," she said. "I think a lot of black folks are angry about it."

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.

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 committing more resources to the security of the first family than it ever has.

What is the reality of the physical threat against Obama? It's hard to pin down.

Presidents typically receive about 3,000 threats a year, Secret Service experts have said, although the agency refused to discuss specific numbers.

In strategic budget documents, officials acknowledged that the threat environment was especially high last year - because of factors including wars overseas, domestic tensions and Obama's history-making presidential bid - and is expected to remain high.

While hostility directed at former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney tended to be associated with U.S. policies abroad, antipathy toward Obama emanates from domestic extremists, Secret Service officials said. He received the earliest protection for a presidential candidate in history- less than a hundred days after he announced - because of threats; and at the most visible moments of his trek to the White House, threat levels reached historic levels, government officials said.

The number of threats has since fallen back to levels seen by Bush and former President Bill Clinton at this point in their terms. But threats are only one barometer of security concerns - and a poor one in some ways, Secret Service officials said. Research into dozens of individuals who have actually attacked presidents in recent decades shows nearly all were previously unknown to the Secret Service.

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