Monday, September 29, 2008

Secret Service guy: "Hospital or jail?" Me: "Jail!"

(Photos are of Ashley's blue hair, the statue commemorating James Meridith for his stance against injustice, the cops at the checkpoint looking at my ID and me in the hospital getting tests)

My youngest daughter Ashley just sent a text message to her friend Frankie. "I just got a phone call from my mother and you are not going to believe what happened to her! She's currently in the hospital -- or jail -- in Oxford Mississippi. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around, where the kid is supposed to be the one in jail and the mom is supposed to be the one to come and bail the kid out? What kind of mother do I have!"

Want to know what happened? Here's the whole story.

Last week I attended the McCain-Obama debate in Oxford, Mississippi. The Commission on Presidential Debates did a wonderful job of organizing the debate and the people working their tables down at Ole Miss were also very helpful, not only giving me my media credential badge but also throwing in a fabulous southern-style breakfast. I was good to go.

Equipped with an official media badge, I then wandered over to the checkpoint that you gotta go through in order to get to the media filing room next to the debate venue. It was a rather hot day, I hadn't slept for 24 hours and I was carrying a whole bunch of luggage -- but other than that, I was in hog heaven. I had my CPD badge and I was about to go out and score a hot new story! Life was good.

But then I got more of a story than I had anticipated.

When I got to the checkpoint I flashed my badge to the officer manning the gate -- but then I just couldn't keep my mouth shut and started to brag. "See that photo on the badge? That was taken in Iraq when I was an embedded journalist," I pointed with pride. Wrong thing to do! The guard took a closer look -- of the photo of me on the streets of Iraq, wearing a headscarf! Holy crap!

You could just SEE what was going through that guy's mind. Maybe he'd just got done watching that racist and defamatory DVD called "Obsession" being distributed to voters by McCain fans and was thinking to himself, "Lordy, we got us here a genuine Islamic terrorist!" You might have been able to see that -- but not me. I was totally naive, only just wanting to brag about one of the most meaningful experiences of my journalistic life. Not only that, but the photo had been taken by a Marine officer too. Humph.

The checkpoint guard consulted his superior. The superior wasn't one of those Mississippians who were famous for their hospitality. This superior was a hard-boiled COP. "You can't use that ID here," he snarled. "You can't see your face."

"But the CPD gave it to me. See. There's my name! And here's my CPIC military ID. And here's my drivers license. See? My name. My picture. That's me." So I asked to see HIS superior. By this time I was polite, patient and Pissed Off. "This is discrimination! You are discriminating against me because I'm wearing a Muslim headscarf!"

"Am not."

"Are so."

Then another guy showed up, wearing civilian clothes. What was I thinking! Just because he'd taken off his black jacket because of the heat, that still didn't mean that he wasn't Secret Service! "I'm taking your badge," he told me. No southern hospitality here either.

"Give me back my badge," I replied politely. "The CPD gave it to me. They approved it. It's mine. Give it back." So we stood out there in the hot sun and me carrying all this luggage and me haven't slept for 24 hours and he wouldn't give me back my badge. And then I got sunstroke and sat down.

"If you don't get up right now, I'll have you arrested," growled the Secret Service guy. But I just couldn't get up. I really honestly couldn't.

"I can't get up," I mumbled.

"Then you're going to jail." Fine. Attica! Attica!

"But I'm feeling really bad," I mumbled again. "Can I call my lawyer?"

"You don't need a lawyer. You need to get out of this area. If you don't get up and leave right now, then you're going to a hospital. It's either the hospital or jail."

"Jail!" I replied. I was NOT going to put up with this injustice. If James Meridith could stand up to injustice here back in the 1960s, then so could I! That was MY freaking badge. Give me liberty or give me death! And then I passed out.

The next thing I knew I was in an ambulance and the paramedic was writing "uncooperative" on my chart because I couldn't answer his questions. Heck, I couldn't even have told him the correct answer if he had given me that "Who's the President of the United States" test. But then almost no one has been able to answer that question correctly ever since Bush stole the 2000 election. But I digress.

So. No jail for me.

At the hospital, I guess they were bored or not busy or something so they put me through every test they could think of. I got a complete blood work-up, a chest X-ray, an EKG, an IV full of saline solution, an oxygen tube -- about $5,000 worth of gadgets and tests. I even got a CAT-scan! Finally they diagnosed me with heat exhaustion, gave me a glass of iced tea, fed me some pot roast, handed me back my luggage and told me to take a cab back to the debate site. Which I did.

Once back at Ole Miss, the CPD issued me a new media credential badge -- with a photo of me without the headscarf -- and I finally got into the media filing tent after all. I was $5,000 poorer, roughed up, scared, dehydrated and truly pissed off about the injustice of it all and having lost five hours of time that I could have spent reporting and having my wonderful photograph of me doing yeoman service as an embedded journalist debased and treated like a terrorist by the Secret Service and discriminated against...but other than that? I was okay.

Ashley, You can text Frankie again -- that your mommie is not now in jail.

Plus I'd just been gifted with yet another hot story! And possibly a lawsuit.... Does anyone out there know anyone from the ACLU?


Muslim Children Gassed at Dayton Mosque After Obsession DVD Hits Ohio: ....John McCain has a moral obligation to publicly censure the Clarion Fund; to denounce the inflammatory, anti-Muslim message of Obsession; and to do everything in his power to stop any further campaign activities by his supporters that have the potential to incite violence.