By Brian E. Muhammad
May 28, 2010
Despite relentless efforts by outspoken conservatives like Republican
Congressmen Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Lamar Smith (R-Texas) to rein in
the Justice Department over a May 2009 decision to drop voter
intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party for Self
Defense, America's top law agency stood by its decision at a May 14
hearing before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
National New Black Panther Party chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz said the
Justice Department determined the allegations were politically
motivated and lacked sufficient legal grounds.
"Obama's Justice Dept. recognized that this was a politicized case
from a politicized Justice Dept. under George Bush and that the case
against the organization and myself as the chairman had no legal
merits," Mr. Shabazz told The Final Call in a telephone interview.
But why is so much energy still being expended more than one year
after an adjudicated matter? Some claim there is a legitimate case
against the New Black Panther Party, while others say it's really
about the angry politics of right wing ideologues aiming to "take
back" the government.
The decision to withdraw the charges sparked a firestorm of criticism
and condemnation of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his Justice
Department mainly from Republican congressmen and GOP political pundits.
"The way Attorney General Holder has refused to prosecute young Black
thugs who gathered at a voting site with menacing clubs, in blatant
violation of federal laws against intimidating voters, speaks louder
than any words from him or his president," argued Black conservative
writer Thomas Sowell in an July 2009 article posted on JewishWorldReview.com.
"I worry that the department's commitment to protecting the
'fundamental right to vote' is wavering under your leadership," wrote
Rep. Wolfe in an irate letter to Mr. Holder. "I fail to understand
how you could dismiss a legitimate case against a party that deployed
armed men to a polling stationone of whom brandished a weapon to voters."
The correspondence also implied the decision was Mr. Holder's
pandering to Black radicals and raised the subject of possible
political cronyism and favoritism by some lawyers in the Civil Rights
Division who pushed to dismiss the case.
Mr. Shabazz said such implications are false because the New Black
Panther Party never had ties to the Obama campaign. "The allegation
that the Obama administration is somehow in bed with the NBPP is
absurd," Mr. Shabazz retorted.
Leading up to the hearings of May 14, a turn of events in the highly
politicized drama was the resignation of J. Christian Adams, a
Bush-era hire and Justice Dept. lawyer who called for the legal
action in the final days of the Bush administration. Mr. Adams is a
known advocate attorney for right wing causes. According to Mr.
Adams' resignation letter, he exited after being "ordered not to
comply" with a Civil Rights Commission subpoena to answer inquiries
about the withdrawal decision.
However, Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil
Rights Division, testified before the commission on behalf of the
Justice Dept. He explained the weakness in prosecuting the case and
rationale for its dismissal.
The transcript of Mr. Perez' statement noted that before November
2008 elections, the New Black Panther Party was transparent about its
intentions to place party members at polling locations throughout the
United States. "To the Department's knowledge, the single polling
place in Philadelphia is the only location where an incident
occurred," Mr. Perez told the Civil Rights Commission. "This apparent
fact is inconsistent with the notion that the Party or Malik Zulu
Shabazz directed a campaign of intimidation."
"In reaching this conclusion, the Department placed significant
weight on the response of the law enforcement first responder to the
Philadelphia polling place," he further said.
According to the transcript, Philadelphia police had declined to
pursue state charges against those named in the federal suit.
Mr. Perez also highlighted a New Black Panther Party statement
concerning the suspension of Minister King Samir Shabazz for
violating intra-organizational policy by having a night stick at the
polling place. The timing of the discipline as posted on the group's
Web Site eliminated the view that possession of the weapon
represented New Black Panther Party intention, he said. Mr. Perez
further stated that from May 2009, the Justice Department had
information indicating that the statement was posted prior to the
filing of the federal action.
"A separate statement posted on the Party Web Site, dated January 7,
2009 (the same date that the complaint in this case was filed),
reported the suspension of the Philadelphia chapter because of these
activities," Mr. Perez said.
Still with the Panthers pushed into turbulent political water by
right wing conservatives bent on obliterating President Obama and Mr.
Holder, the saga continues.
Mr. Shabazz contends the New Black Panther Party is being used as a
"political tool." He said there has been an increase in insults
hurled at the Panthers through conservative magazines and media
outlets. The "demonization" of the New Black Panther Party is partly
groundwork for upcoming midterm election ads and talking points, Mr.
Shabazz said, citing the dishonorable mention of the party in "Right
Now," a new book by Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele.
The federal case was tied to a national initiative by the New Black
Panther Party to independently monitor polling sites during the
historic presidential contest between Barack Obama and Republican
John McCain. Controversy arose over the presence of two uniformed
Panthers, one carrying a night stick, near the entrance of a
Philadelphia polling site. "These right wingers are frightened that a
Black man is running the country and they are doing everything they
can to conjure up White fears of a Black president and Black people.
They are using anything they can to further their motives in this
time that I believe is the time of their demise," Mr. Shabazz said.