A former Secret Service agent has detailed the racist abuse that was levelled at Michelle Obama during her time as first lady, and her frustration and inability as an assigned protector to do anything about it.
“I could do nothing,” Evy Poumpouras told Insider in an article published on Wednesday. “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.”
“When it came to speech, they could call them names,” Poumpouras recalled. “They could say whatever they wanted so long as there was no imminent threat of harm.”
In Poumpouras’ 2020 memoir Becoming Bulletproof, she revealed how Obama had as the first Black first lady withstood “certain kinds of disparagement that none of her predecessors ever faced.”
She recalled one particularly ugly incident:
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. We arrived at the school and she walked out with her head held high, ready to inspire all of the students eagerly waiting for her.
Obama has frequently spoken about the racism she faced during the eight years that her husband, former President Barack Obama, was in the White House.
“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,” Obama said in 2017.