Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It Wasn’t Just a Non-event—It Was a Tragedy!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The president came and went.

There was virtually nothing to see. President George W. Bush's limousine is behind the white pipe fencing.

I’ve been covering presidents for 42 years –- that’s Lyndon Johnson, if you’re trying to figure it out -- and yet there is more parade and less show with this administration.

This is not a political piece. This is a law enforcement posting about what is now done to protect the man. Not George W. Bush, but the President of the United States. The United States Secret Service uses the acronym POTUS.

Over the years, the protection has gotten tighter and tighter. This is not a condemnation of how they do their work, for they have an incredibly difficult task.

There is plenty to say about the political side of the Bush administration. The lack of public appearances and using security as a screen for staying out of touch with the majority of Americans diminishes confidence with these leaders. Bush seldom stands before thousands of ordinary citizens. When he does, they more often than not are in very select groups: conventions, armed forces bases and hand picked political situations.

I can rattle off the excuses: we’re at war; it’s a different world since Sept. 11…. However, with his poll ratings at an all time low, he can ill afford to stand in the midst of his fellow countrymen and take the heat of his leadership. I’m not talking about the anti-war protestors, I’m talking about the majority of citizens who voted and who accept the outcome of the elections, whether their candidate won or not, who accept Bush as president. In the six years he has been our leader, I have yet to see the man and I have made a fair effort to do so.

Monday was no different. The local press sought shade during the waiting. They are: Journal's photographer Dean Hanson, foreground, KOAT's Matt Grubbs on his cellular phone, KRQE’s photojournalist Dominic Crespin, in the blue shirt, freelance photographer and KUNM radio reporter, Nick Layman, left, in the purple shirt and KOB’s News Chief Photographer Bazz McClain, partially hidden, with a lone protester, in the white shirt. Other members of the media included: the Journal’s Jeff Jones, Associated Press’ Melanie Dabovich and KOAT’s photojournalist Paul Hyso.

There were at least six visible layers of protection for the motorcade as it left the home of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque’s Mayor Larry Abraham on Rio Grande Boulevard, where a private political fundraiser for incumbent Senator Pete Domenici, who is seeking a seventh term, took place.

First layer, Bernalillo County Sheriff's Traffic Sgt. J.P. Lazo, who with another officer, turned traffic around about a half mile south of the event on Rio Grande Boulevard.

Second, members of the Albuquerque Police Department's horse mounted unit and emergency response team limit the northern most access for the public.

The third and fourth levels are provided by members of the USSS uniform division in a grey sport utility vehicle, that ran a parallel path with the limousine, backed up by an APD special weapons and tactics unit in the white SUV, seen in the background of the first picture at the top of the post.

The fifth level is the motorcade, and within it is the sixth level, a small number of vehicles including the limousine and backup USSS vehicles, but excluding non-essential follow-up cars.

Protesters were allowed closer, about 200 yards, than I have previously noticed. They were still out of shouting range, though the presidential limousine is little more than a bank safe on wheels and from within the hermetically sealed Cadillac, nothing probably can be heard.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Only moments before the limousine appeared on the driveway of Abraham’s estate, two American flags were hoisted across the road. What does that mean? Supporters were granted access while the news media, regular citizens, and sign carrying protesters were kept away. Is the president only allowed to see signs of support? Does that constitute an abridgment of the first amendment right to petition government for a redress of grievances?

Returning the president to Air Force One, at Kirtland Air Force Base, the motorcade drove east in the closed off westbound lanes in front of the Sunport. Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety Officer Germaine Casey, 40, was killed when his motorcycle left the roadway on a curve and struck a tree. He was immediately treated by fellow officers and transported to University of New Mexico Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Casey had served two years with Rio Rancho DPS. Previously, he was an UNM police officer. He is survived by his wife, Lisa and two daughters.

Casey is the second motorcycle officer killed within a year while escorting a presidential motorcade. Honolulu Police Department motorcycle Officer Steve Favela, died Nov. 26, 2006, from injuries suffered five days earlier, while escorting Bush on a rain-slicked roadway on Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii. Favela also struck a tree.

After completing the motorcade escort, APD Traffic Section Lt. Todd Parkins, right, and another officer wend their way towards the scene of the crash as vehicles at the Sunport are ensnarled.

Though presidential motorcade escorts are extremely dangerous for motorcycle officers, now is not the time to analyze the events that lead to Officer Casey’s death.

The Domenici fundraiser raised about $434,000. The event cost the attendees $1,000 per plate or $5,000 for a picture with Bush, according to campaign officials.

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