A former top official charges the Justice Department with practicing racial politics and selective prosecution in the Black Panther voter-intimidation case. Are we a “nation of cowards,” or is it just Holder’s DOJ?In February, on the occasion of Black History Month, Attorney General Eric Holder called the United States a “nation of cowards” regarding discussions of race even as his department was failing to prosecute one of the clearest cases of voter intimidation in American history because the defendants were black militants, members of the New Black Panther Party.
Holder said that “we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial.” Okay, let’s talk, starting with Tuesday’s testimony of J. Christian Adams, a former career DOJ attorney in the Voting Rights Section. Adams resigned over DOJ’s handling of the Black Panther case and DOJ’s refusal to honor Civil Rights Commission subpoenas, including ordering Adams not to comply.
On Election Day 2008, New Black Panther party members King Samir Shabazz, Malik Zulu Shabazz and Jerry Jackson engaged in activities that resulted in charges in a civil complaint of violating the Voting Rights Act through intimidation, threats and coercion, as they stood dressed in military garb outside a Philadelphia polling place.
The video of the event, photos and witness testimony presented an open-and-shut case ripe for DOJ prosecution. The Justice Department under President George W. Bush filed criminal charges against the three men. Holder’s Justice Department would later drop the charges in a plea deal in which the baton-brandishing thugs promised not to do it again in Philadelphia until 2012. They walked, free to intimidate elsewhere.
On Tuesday, Adams gave the testimony his bosses tried to block, telling the Civil Rights Commission how Holder’s department refused to prosecute what he has called “the clearest case of voter intimidation that I’ve seen since practicing law.” At an April 23 Commission hearing, witnesses testified to how the Black Panthers acted in concert, threatening black Republicans and whites who showed up. Two witnesses testified that they saw some would-be voters turn back and leave without voting after seeing the nightstick and being called “white devils.”
Yet Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, testified before the commission in April that “the facts did not constitute a prosecutable violation of the federal criminal civil rights statutes.” Say what? “After reviewing the evidence, the department concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish that the party or Malik Zulu Shabazz violated Section 11(b),” Perez said in his testimony.
Adams told the Commission on Tuesday that DOJ officials “over and over and over” showed “hostility” to prosecution of voter intimidation cases involving “black defendants and white victims.” Adams says that Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli, an Obama political appointee, overruled a unanimous recommendation for continued prosecution by Adams and his associates.
Adams testified Tuesday that when the Black Panther case came up, he heard officials in the department say it was “no big deal” and “media-generated” and point to Fox News as the source. The video and witness testimony speaks for itself. So does the fact that one of the Black Panthers was in fact an official poll-watcher for the Democratic Party and an elected local party official.
Now imagine if this had been Tea Party members outside a polling place in Philadelphia, Miss. Would those in Holder’s department have turned their heads and said there was nothing to see here, just move along? We think the outcome and the media coverage would have been different.
Clearly, a congressional investigation is in order, but that will have to wait until at least the next and hopefully different Congress is sworn in. Holder’s obligation is to provide equal justice under the law. Regarding his oath of office, he has failed miserably. The Black Panthers in this case should have been judged by the content of their character and the nature of their actions, not excused because of the color of their skin.