Sunday, March 2, 2008


Police concerned about order to stop weapons screening at Obama rally
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
DALLAS -- Security details at Barack Obama's rally Wednesday stopped screening people for weapons at the front gates more than an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Reunion Arena.

The order to put down the metal detectors and stop checking purses and laptop bags came as a surprise to several Dallas police officers who said they believed it was a lapse in security.

Dallas Deputy Police Chief T.W. Lawrence, head of the Police Department's homeland security and special operations divisions, said the order -- apparently made by the U.S. Secret Service -- was meant to speed up the long lines outside and fill the arena's vacant seats before Obama came on.

"Sure," said Lawrence, when asked if he was concerned by the great number of people who had gotten into the building without being checked. But, he added, the turnout of more than 17,000 people seemed to be a "friendly crowd."

The Secret Service did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.

Doors opened to the public at 10 a.m., and for the first hour security officers scanned each person who came in and checked their belongings in a process that kept movement of the long lines at a crawl. Then, about 11 a.m., an order came down to allow the people in without being checked.

Several Dallas police officers said it worried them that the arena was packed with people who got in without even a cursory inspection.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, the order was made by federal officials who were in charge of security at the event.

"How can you not be concerned in this day and age," said one policeman.

I remember years ago when I walked into a store to buy a newspaper and I saw on the front page the news about how three white men in Jasper, Texas tied James Byrd naked to the back of a pickup truck and dragged him to his death.

There was another black man in the store who looked to be around my age and I heard him say in a voice choked with rage, "This is 1998! This ain't a hundred years ago! This shit ain't supposed to be happening!" He and I looked at each other and we understood, even though we were strangers, that we shared a painful history of loss and heartbreak.

We remembered Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those four little girls who died in a church in Birmingham, Alabama, and we realized that the brutal racism that killed those people so long ago wasn't gone and that it killed James Byrd. We were shocked, confused--and angry. The white guy behind the cash register appeared nervous.

Thinking back on that terrible day, I thought, No, it's not a hundred years ago, but if a black man hitchhiking on a dark country road can be lynched, a black man running for President can still be assassinated. And it scares the hell out of me.