Jerry Markon and Krissah Thompson have a five-page article in the Washington Post on the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case. The timing is wonderful, as this is catnip for the Republican race-baiters who want to claim that the Obama Justice Department has no interest in protecting the civil rights of white people. The only problem is that the article only confirms that the whole case was a piece of crap.
On election day in 2008, two black men dressed in Black Panther garb, one carrying a short nightstick, stood outside a polling stating in North Philadelphia. The scene was captured on video tape, rushed to Fox News, and broadcast to the world during the afternoon. Here’s the raw footage. Notice that even during the brief taping people are seen coming and going from the polling station without taking any notice of the New Black Panthers. Also, for context, note that this is an overwhelmingly Democratic precinct and that it would be stupid place to try to suppress the vote of McCain voters or white people in general. It’s a racially mixed neighborhood.
The most important fact in the case is the following (emphasis mine):
Two months after Election Day, Adams and his supervisors in the George W. Bush administration filed a voter-intimidation lawsuit against Heath and his colleagues, even though no voters had complained.
And, after the footage began airing on Fox News:
Calls poured into the Philadelphia district attorney’s office reporting voter intimidation at Guild House. But staff members realized they were from cable news viewers as far away as Florida.
No call had come from a registered voter in Philadelphia. The office would deem the day’s event a “non-incident.”
Context is important in this case. Philadelphians are accustomed to seeing eccentrics and visibly political radicals and people in burqas and other sights that are outside the common experience of most Americans. That’s why no one complained about a couple of jackasses standing outside this polling station. Many of the voters were already familiar with them.
The two, regulars around the neighborhood, also protest often near City Hall. They have been shown in videos and quoted in news reports using incendiary rhetoric, telling African Americans to rise up against their “slave masters” and condemning whites as “crackers.”
But neighbors said they view Jackson and Heath – who declined to comment – as annoyances rather than threats.
Believe it or not, the average Philadelphian isn’t likely to take any special notice of a couple of faux Panthers making racist comments on a street corner, at least, not in the hustle-bustle of Center City. On Election Day, these guys just wanted to be seen. They didn’t have any interest in helping Obama get elected (they reportedly called him a tool of the white man), and any successful intimidation they did that day would have had over an eighty percent chance of costing Obama a vote.
So, without any victims or complainants, the case should have ended with no action. But that didn’t happen because the Republicans saw a golden opportunity to create a false equivalency argument and accuse the Justice Department of disinterest in the civil rights of white people. It should be noted, also, that one of the faux Panthers was a certified poll watcher and the police, when they arrived, didn’t even ask him to leave. Urban life many be confusing to a lot of Americans, especially Republicans, but it’s not as scary as they think.
As for the Washington Post, nowhere in their five-page article do they make any mention of any of the following:
A joint report filed by the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility found that Brad Schlozman, who had been appointed to run the division, along with von Spakovsky and Tanner, regularly considered political affiliation when hiring career attorneys. According to the report, Tanner in particular complained that prior to the Bush appointees removing safeguards against politicized hiring, you had to be a “civil rights person” to work in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. In 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama blocked von Spakovsky’s nomination to the Federal Election Commission saying von Spakovsky was “directly involved” in efforts to “disenfranchise voters” and “politicize” the Voting Rights Section.
A Government Accountability Office report released in December confirmed what veteran civil-rights lawyers who left the division over the past eight years had feared — during the Bush administration, enforcement of civil-rights laws in employment discrimination, voting, and hate crimes fell across the board. It wasn’t just about the cases: The racial atmosphere in the division was so hostile toward African Americans that by 2007, almost all the black lawyers in the division had left.
That’s the context of the New Black Panther case. It was horse manure, and race-baiting, and fear-mongering, and false equivalency, and should have been treated like a joke. Maybe the Post could have mentioned the record of the Bush Justice Department on racial issues?