Editorial…Justice Dept. decision is without racial bias

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A former Justice Department lawyer has alleged that the department reduced the scope of a voter-intimidation case involving New Black Panther Party members in Philadelphia last year because his former colleagues do not want to protect White people’s civil rights.
“We abetted wrongdoing and abandoned law-abiding citizens,” said J. Christian Adams of the decision to scale down the case, which he had helped to develop.

Adams, who recently resigned from the Justice Department’s civil right division, has been critical of the department’s handling of the case.

Adam’s allegations of a racial motive playing a role in the justice department’s decision have been fanned by Fox News and conservative commentators who allege a conspiracy involving the Department of Justice and the New Black Panther Party.

If the allegations were true it should be the subject of congressional hearings, followed by firings and possible prosecution.

But a closer look at the case reveals Adams’ allegations are without merit and that the Justice Department handled the case properly.

Conservatives are using this manufactured controversy as political ammunition against the Obama administration in an attempt to flip accusations that the Justice Department’s civil rights division became politicized under the Bush administration.

The case arose after two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a polling place in the 1200 block of Fairmount Avenue. A video of the incident posted online showed the men dressed in paramilitary clothing, and one carried a Billy club. The men hurled threats and insults at Black and White voters, prosecutors alleged in a complaint accusing the organization of violating the federal Voting Rights Act.

Prosecutors later won by default judgment against Minister King Samir Shabazz, identified as leader of the Philadelphia chapter and the man who was carrying the club, and dropped charges against the group and the man who was not carrying the club.

The prosecutors went forward with the lawsuit against Shabazz, and obtained an injunction that forbids him from carrying a weapon near an open polling place in Philadelphia through 2012.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler told The Associated Press that the charges against the organization were dropped because they were not supported by the facts or by the law.

Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said that acting supervisors had concluded that the case had been over-charged.

Perez said there was insufficient evidence the New Black Panther Party national organization was responsible for the incident. Perez said that the voter intimidation provision is rarely used and noted similar incidents during the Bush administration in which minorities were the alleged victims but the department did not file such a lawsuit.

To be clear there is no way to justify the actions of the two men involved in this case. Voters should not go to the polls and see men dressed in paramilitary uniforms brandishing weapons.

But there is no evidence that anyone’s right to vote was actually infringed upon. It is also misleading to inflate the profile of the New Black Panther Party, which has no connection to the original Black Panthers Party of the 1960s.

This is a fringe group not to be compared to the powerful Ku Klux Klan in its heyday of lynching and intimidating Blacks from voting.

To seek to compare the two groups as some conservatives have tried to do is intellectually dishonest.

Abigail Thernstrom, conservative member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, wrote a recent article in the National Review, a conservative magazine, dismissing the New Black Panthers incident as “small potatoes.”

Thernstrom warned the commission that the “overblown attack threatens to undermine the credibility,” of conservative criticism of the Justice Department.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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