Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Security lapse at Obama rally in the city where Jack Ruby broke through police lines in 1963

The seventies, when I attended primary rallies in Madison with my camera and shoved my way up front with the real (credentialed) news photographers, were a more innocent time. Security for candidates was a more laissez-faire thing than it is today. The Secret Service was there, of course, but they used their eyes, not metal detectors. When T and I recently went to the Hillary Clinton rally in Madison the night before the Wisconsin primary, some 4,000 of us faced the security line from hell. Standard airport-type security -- metal detectors, purses and backpacks searched, all metal out of your pockets (to simplify things, I stashed the extra lenses I had in my coat pocket in my wife's purse, so at least they wouldn't roll off the table).

But everyone accepted it in patient, resigned good humor -- the times being what they are, and all the things that have happened in the interim, we all understood the necessity for modern security procedures. I remembered wondering how they ever processed the much larger crowd at the Obama rally.

Well, it turns out that in Dallas recently (and apparently elsewhere), the Secret Service found a shortcut. If there's been much news coverage of this, I've missed it, but it's absolutely spooky -- especially in the city where Jack Ruby scored his hit and where who the heck knows what happened on November 22, 1963. As Teresa reports in Making Light:
Here’s the initial story: the Dallas police, who are more conscious of these issues than most municipal police forces, told reporters that the Secret Service ordered them to suspend weapons screening while people were still arriving at an Obama rally this past Thursday.
WTF? In Dallas, of all places? With a huge crowd coming to see a high-profile, charismatic candidate who is known to be a magnet for crazies and psychos?
That is to say: in a state with few gun laws and no shortage of racist crazies, and in a city with a high crime rate and a history of political assassination, they had less security for a major campaign appearance than many high schools apply every day to their students. They had less security than I’ve run into at concerts, baseball games, and second-string amusement parks. They had far less security than was in force at comparable campaign events during the previous two elections. They had much, much less security than the torpid Republican National Convention in NYC had on its slowest day, in a year when all they had to do was renominate Bush.

More pertinently, they didn’t have an atom of the security that’s lavished on a the most minor and unannounced semi-public forays of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. (Mind you, Bush and Cheney’s personal security protocols verge on the insane.)
Be sure to read Teresa's entire post, which collates a tremendous amount of data and makes it clear this hasn't just happened in Dallas, but at rallies for both Clinton (another magnet for crazies) and Obama..

It's not as if security for opposition candidates hasn't been in the news -- elsewhere. The level of security Musharraf provided Benazir Bhutto was widely perceived as a contributing factor in her assassination. It's seems incredible to find this laxity in today's America. What would they say if something happened? Oops?


cathy said...

I understand that this was mentioned by at least one network newscast, but it was simply dismissed as whining - "he didn't get shot, so what's the problem".
Presidents rode in open limos for many years before anybody realized that there could be a problem.

Anonymous said...

Just heard an NPR story on this same topic -- thought I'd share in case anyone wants to listen:


Dr "Dum Dum" Diablo said...

The Secret Service behaved sensibly. They realized that if you let 200 Texans through the turnstyle with no qustions asked, the majority will be packing at least one piece. Two hundred quick-on-the-draw Texans provide vastly more security than a few Treasury Dept agents ever could.

Any crazed idiot foolish enough to brandish a gun in such a setting would go down in a hail of gunfire. Of course, so might some bystanders, but the country has no shortage of bystanders. And so, ironically, might Obama, but the incident would still have sent a powerful message to other would-be assassins.

Let's stop relying on paid thugs, metal detectors, and and security checks. We all need to arm ourselves and protect each other.