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A Black Secret Service Bodyguard’s Take on President Reagan

When I was a youngster, I was taught: “If you’ve nothing nice to say about another, then don’t say anything.” But over the years I have amended those teachings. Much has written about the late President Reagan, characterizing him as “father figure,” “humble boy from the Midwest,” “conscience of the ordinary citizen,” etc. As a Secret Service Agent (SA) under several presidents, I admit that former President Reagan was hardly my favorite — not even close! There are several profound reasons why I rank Reagan as low as I do. Some of my “darkest days” as an SA were on his watch — right under his nose. He seemed detached, oblivious to, or uncaring about the plight of minority SAs serving on the White House Detail to protect him and family. To many minority SAs who worked under Reagan, the Unites States Secret Service was a horrendous agency in terms of social justice, fair play, lack of upward mobility, job assignments, harassments, etc. Seemingly, that agency was taking its cues from the President himself. How else could the agency be so blatant in its deportment toward its minority SAs? We reasoned that President Reagan must have known but always looked the other way. He seemed to believe that as long as discrimination against minorities was kept under wraps and within the purview of the “Good ole boys ” system that was part of the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) and many other agencies of the Federal government at that time, it eventually would disappear. I guarded Reagan on eight to ten separate occasions in Milwaukee and elsewhere, and I served as supervisor of a group of SAs assigned to his ranch in Simi Valley near Santa Barbara, California before he was sworn in as President in January 1981. I served another extended assignment on his ranch in 1981, but this time the assignment led to a solid case of blatant racial discrimination. I was positioned as a “post stander” and understudy to a young and, by comparison of careers, less experienced non-Black SA. As a result, I filed a written complaint in protest, thereby fueling perceptions of and labeling me as a black militant by white, racially intolerant managers of USSS. While I don’t know if Reagan was aware of these racial goings-on all around him, but I suggest to you that he should have known. After all, he was President of all citizens, including SAs, not just whites or others among the so-called privileged class. Doubtful readers are encouraged to review facts of a Class Action Racial Discrimination Suit, Moore et al. v. O’Neill, civil case # 00-00953 (RWR) filed against USSS in Superior Court on May 24, 2001, Washington, D.C., by visiting http://srslawfirm.com/currentcases.htm. Many of the anecdotal accounts in this document were serious racial incidents experienced by more than 70 Black male and female SAs. Do not misconstrue my motives in writing this story. I do not blame President Reagan for the racist practices of managers of the agency responsible for his safety. But despite Reagan’s relatively successful eight years as President, ending the Cold War, removal of the Berlin Wall, and signing legislation creating the Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a National Holiday, I cannot in good faith jump on the “praise Reagan bandwagon” so prevalent among our mostly white citizens hailing him as one of the country’s greatest Presidents ever. Yes, “Dutch” is gone. In the wake of his death, we must allow history to be as kind to him as possible without slanting truths or skewing facts about his rather unimpressive record in the areas of civil rights and domestic policy. Reagan’s record adversely affected scores of minorities, as he appeared to have subscribed to the catch-phrase so popular among White House advisors of yesteryear: “benign neglect” of the legitimate aspirations of minority SA’s, Blacks, and other minorities in general. To some, this may seem to be a stretch, but racism that was so real and almost palpable in the everyday lives of us back then on Reagan’s Watch was and is no small matter. Riverwest resident Dejustice Coleman, Sr. is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, a former Special Agent of the United States Secret Service, and director of a Private Investigative company.