On August 25, CBS News reported the FBI and other federal agencies were investigating a possible assassination threat against Barak Obama.. The incident is troubling, but not surprising. Without doubt, there are people in America who are angered and threatened by the fact a Black man is being considered for the presidency, people who would go to any length to prevent his election.
How many? Who knows. The FBI and Homeland Security may have their profilers and lists of suspects, but there's no assurance the most dangerous threats are, or could be, identified. It is reasonable to assume that a presidential assassination plot could be hatched by persons far more sophisticated and dangerous than the goons caught in Denver this week and that it could proceed much farther before being stopped.
This invites the question, "So what?" Threats are always there and we have federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to deal with them. Of course. But these are exceptional times: a Black Man is running for president. That is an event that is guaranteed to pour gasoline on the flames of hate burning in any racist heart.
Do exceptional times call for exceptional responses? History may confirm that they do, and that they have. Increased community involvement is always evident in times of war, civil unrest, and in response to special and persistent threats. In our own national history heightened community involvement has run all the way from "One if by land, and two if by sea," to the Coast Guard's Water Ways Watch, to the Neighborhood Watches with their familiar signs.
An Obama Watch with a mission to heighten national awareness of, and mobilize community involvement in, the security of our highest elected official may be hard to sell. Still the question remains -- is this a time to "let the authorities take care of it?"
Some would argue that calling attention to racist threats is likely to aggravate them. Others would point out Obama's own campaign is minimizing ethnic considerations and focusing on potential race-related threats is contrary to his message and direction. Still others would find it awkward and embarrassing to admit there actually may be increased threats to Obama because of his race.
The questions still intrude: What, if anything, do We The People have to do with the security of this presidential candidate? Is there a need for a more deliberate and organized community response at the national level?
And perhaps the most intrusive question of all: do we still have a national sense of community to appeal to?