Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: COVID-19, the Secret Service and Me

We all know that U.S. Secret Service agents would “take a bullet” for the president or whomever they are assigned to protect. We saw the courage of agent Clint Hill, who raced from the car behind to sprawl himself over first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her mortally wounded husband John F. Kennedy in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Nov. 22, 1963.

And then there was agent Tim McCarthy. He, D.C. Police Officer Thomas Delahanty and White House press secretary James Brady were injured along with the president when John Hinckley attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan.

But oh, how times have changed in the 39 years since Reagan. The sad fact is that Donald J. Trump — probably the most loathsome person ever to walk into the executive mansion, not to mention reside there — has himself endangered the lives of the very agents sworn to protect him.

More than 130 Secret Service officers who help protect the White House and the president when he travels have recently been ordered to quarantine because they tested positive for the coronavirus or had close contact with infected co-workers. What’s worse, they may have gotten infected from Trump. Their illnesses are believed to be partly linked to a series of campaign rallies that Trump held in the weeks before the election which he lost badly.

In addition to mismanaging the pandemic and allowing it to run rampant while he told folks to shine lights into their bodies and to drink bleach, Dude is himself apparently the superspreader-in-chief, not only recklessly requiring agents to be exposed to potential threats at several unsafe campaign events, but also cramming into a vehicle with agents while he himself was being treated for the virus at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. What a lout!

A former good friend of mine became a Secret Service agent. Fortunately, he was mustered out before being exposed to the likes of The Donald.

Kenneth Banner and I were college schoolmates in Los Angeles. His life’s ambition was to be a “top cop.” We often even went on “double dates” and his lust for law enforcement far exceeded any carnal lust he showed at the time.

His mother would let him drive her new, white 1964 Chevrolet Nova. It looked like an unmarked cop car. In those days, before there was FM radio in cars, just beyond the last station at 1600 on the AM band, police calls were broadcast, so anyone could listen.

We would escort our companions for the evening home after whatever event we attended, and then Banner would tune the radio to listen to the police chatter. We wore suits and ties when we went-a-courting, so we looked like plainclothes cops.

Banner had a long, five-cell flashlight in the car, and we would roll up on accidents or crime scenes, then alight from his mom’s cop-looking car, dressed like the lead characters from the “Dragnet” TV series, five-cell in hand, and walk around as though we were “investigating.” It was great fun, high adventure. I confess, it was also very, very, very nerdy, but hey, we were 19-year-olds and “boys will be boys.”

We parted company when I moved on to San Jose State to study journalism. But more than a decade later we would meet again, this time at the White House, where he was a Secret Service agent. He’d been assigned to Chip Carter, the son of President Jimmy Carter, and one day, I — now a White House credentialed reporter for the Chicago Daily Defender — was able to meet him again and recall our past pretend-cop escapades.

Later, my friend got a taste of the contagion that seems to stalk all law enforcement agencies all over the country. It took him maybe 30 years to be bitten by it, but I had been keenly aware of it since we parted company in L.A. — racism.

Banner was one of 10 Black agents who filed a class-action civil lawsuit in 2000, which said the agency had demonstrated a pattern of failing to follow up on allegations of racial discrimination over the previous 20 years.

During the trial, attorneys played an audiotape of threats phoned in to a dedicated line at Banner’s home in Philadelphia in 1990. Only other agents knew the number, he says. “You little n—–,” the tape said. “You better leave Philly or you’ll never leave alive.” Wow!

I don’t know which would be worse for a Secret Service agent, being constantly subjected to racism on a job where one’s life is in danger every day, or being exposed to a deadly virus by the boss for whom one is sworn to take a bullet.

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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