Verdict on the New Black Panther Voter Intimidation Controversy: Race-Based Enforcement At DOJ Is Real

The Washington Post, to its everlasting credit, has published a thorough and excellent piece of investigative journalism examining the continuing controversy over the Obama Justice Department’s reluctance to follow through on the prosecution of two paramilitary clad Black Panthers, one brandishing a club, who menaced voters at a Philadelphia polling place. You can, and should, read the whole piece here…especially if you were one of the throng claiming that the story was a trumped-up “conservative media” fabrication. It is true that the conservative media kept the story alive, but that is because the mainstream media inexcusably ignored or buried it, for due to a blatant bias in favor of shielding the Obama Administration from embarrassment, no matter how ell deserved.

It remains a mystery to me how opposing polling place intimidation of any kind, by any group, in favor of any candidate, and insisting that the enforcement of the laws against such conduct be administered without respect to race or politics, could possibly be attacked as a “conservative” position. Or, for that matter, how excusing race-based enforcement could be described as a “liberal” position, or a responsible, fair or ethical one. But they have been, repeatedly, which is why the report by the Washington Post, as one of the media groups that initially ignored the story (and was criticized by it independent ethics watchdog for doing so) is so useful and important.

The Post story’s final paragraphs indicate that there is a real and disturbing problem, indeed several problems,  underlying the incident:

“Officials have denied any political considerations and said the final decision was made by Loretta King, a 30-year career lawyer designated by Obama as acting head of civil rights. Asked at a civil rights commission hearing in May whether any of the department’s political leadership was “involved in” the decision to dismiss the Panthers case, assistant attorney general for civil rights Thomas E. Perez said no…Justice Department records turned over in a lawsuit to the conservative group Judicial Watch show a flurry of e-mails between the Civil Rights Division and the office of Associate Attorney General Thomas Perelli, a political appointee who supervises the division. “Where are we on the Black Panther case?” read the subject line of a Perelli e-mail to his deputy the day before the case was dropped. Perelli, the department’s No. 3 official, wrote that he was enclosing the “current thoughts” of the deputy attorney general’s office, the No. 2 official. Perelli’s staff brought the matter to Holder’s attention before the department dropped the charges, other documents show. Holder did not make the decision, officials say.

In the months after the case ended, tensions persisted. A new supervisor, Julie Fernandes, arrived to oversee the voting section, and Coates testified that she told attorneys at a September 2009 lunch that the Obama administration was interested in filing cases – under a key voting rights section – only on behalf of minorities. “Everyone in the room understood exactly what she meant,” Coates said. “No more cases like the Ike Brown or New Black Panther Party cases.” Fernandes declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

A few months later, Coates requested a transfer to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina. When colleagues scheduled a farewell lunch, one attorney who attended said Coates vented his frustrations, criticizing the department for failing to enforce the law “on a non-racial basis.”

Justice Department officials say they treat everyone equally. Holder, in a speech last year to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs said the department’s “commitment to Equal Protection – and to full participation in our nation’s elections – will not waiver. Never.” That was one month after the end of the New Black Panther Party case. “

In addition to verifying the legitimacy of critics’ charges, the Post story shows that:

  • The complaining career attorneys, Coates and Adams, were not imagining or fabricating a strong element in the DOJ that opposed prosecuting civil rights law against minorities.
  • The political side of the Administration was involved in the decision not to prosecute what would have been a clear-cut case of attempted voter intimidation and a violation of the Voting Rights Act if the races had been reversed.
  • Attorney General Holder, while making unequivocal statements in support of Equal Protection, was aware of the use of race-based considerations in his department, and did nothing about it.
  • Americans who are concerned about race-based bias in the Obama Administration, which achieved power, in part, on the explicit promise to reject and oppose it, are not racists, paranoid, conservative operatives or brainwashed by Glenn Beck. They are interested in justice, they recognized a problem when they saw one, and they are owed an apology.

A final comment: I’ve written a lot about this story since July, because, frankly, I am angry about by it: angry about the fact that it happened under this Administration, which had an obligation to go out of its way to avoid the appearance of racial bias; angry at the willingness of supposedly objective journalists to look the other way while ridiculing the few journalists who were doing their jobs; angry about the despicable tactics and embarrassing logic used to discredit the Justice Department lawyers who blew the whistle; angry at the sheer stupidity of the Civil Rights Division’s decision, and angry at the continuing incompetence and weak management of Attorney General Holder. Yes, the incident itself was relatively minor, but the ethical principles that have been throttled in its aftermath are important to all Americans. That so many have been willing to allow that throttling in exchange for pure partisan loyalty is no less than frightening.

Here are the previous Ethics Alarms posts on the New Black Panther voter intimidation story:

One thought on “Verdict on the New Black Panther Voter Intimidation Controversy: Race-Based Enforcement At DOJ Is Real

  1. The real story here, Jack, is that of legitimization. Once an outrage against law and common decency is committed and, despite any level of coverage or commentary, the perpetrators are never prosecuted, the door is thereby left wide open for more and worse. I relearned that lesson vividly when I was investigating the “Hounddog” child porn case. The law is only as good as the willingness of legal authorities to enforce it. Now, radical groups with minorities in their ranks- as with Hollywood- know what they can get away with. And they will push the envelope during the upcoming election and beyond, aware that the U.S. Department of Justice (and their state and local equivalents in such places as Philadelphia) will do nothing except under extreme pressure. The “Third-Worlding” of American politics is well underway.

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