Michelle Obama’s former Secret Service agent ‘could do nothing’ when racist slurs hurled at former first lady

‘Mrs Obama had to withstand certain kinds of disparagement that none of her predecessors ever faced,’ former agent writes

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 19 May 2021 17:06
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Former Secret Service agent Evy Poumpouras has revealed that one of the hardest parts of her job was not being able to intervene when racist slurs were hurled at former first lady Michelle Obama.

Apart from the Obamas, Ms Poumpouras also served on the security details of George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W Bush during her 12 years in the Secret Service.

Ms Poumpouras wrote in her 2020 memoir Becoming Bulletproof that she could “remember feeling outraged” when she saw a sign with a racist message aimed at the then-first lady.

“As the first Black First Lady of the United States, Mrs Obama had to withstand certain kinds of disparagement that none of her predecessors ever faced,” she wrote. “I was on her protective detail when we were driving to a school to deliver a speech, we passed someone on a bridge holding up a shockingly racist sign directed at her.”

“I remember feeling outraged — after all, it was part of our job to protect the first family mentally as well as physically. But if the First Lady saw the sign, she gave no indication of it,” Ms Poumpouras added.

The former Secret Service agent told Insider: “I could do nothing. There’s freedom of speech in the United States, and even if I personally feel that speech is wrong, the law doesn’t give me the power to take that person’s speech away.”

She added that she would only be allowed to intervene if she thought the first lady was in danger of being hurt physically.

“When it came to speech, they could call them names,” she told the outlet. “They could say whatever they wanted so long as there was no imminent threat of harm.”

But the organisers of external events could take action and had the ability to remove individuals who were “heckling” the first family, according to Ms Poumpouras.

“I could not step in and say, ‘Hey, don’t say that’. But the staff could say, ‘We don’t accept that type of language here. This is our private property. Please leave.’ Only then could someone do something, but as painful as it was, I had to abide by the law,” she said.

A few months after leaving the White House in 2017, Michelle Obama took part in a conversation with Lauren Casteel, the President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

“The shards that cut me the deepest were the ones that intended to cut,” she said according to The Denver Post. The paper reported that Ms Obama referenced being called an ape and people talking about her backside. “Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who won’t see me for what I am because of my skin colour,” she said at the time.

In May of this year, Ms Obama toldCBS This Morning that many Black people “still live in fear” when going about their daily lives.

About her daughters, Malia and Sasha, she said: “Every time they get in a car by themselves, I worry about what assumption is being made by somebody who doesn’t know everything about them.

“The fact that they are good students and polite girls. But maybe they’re playing their music a little loud. Maybe somebody sees the back of their head and makes an assumption.”

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