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EDITORIAL: Protecting Black Panthers
Question of the Day
Imagine if Ku Klux Klan members had stood menacingly in military uniforms, with nightsticks, in front of a polling place. Add to it that they had hurled racial threats and insults at voters who tried to enter.
Now suppose that the government, backed by a nationally televised video of the event, had won a court case against the Klansmen except for the perfunctory filing of a single, simple document - but that an incoming Republican administration had moved to voluntarily dismiss the already-won case.
Surely that would have been front-page news, with a number of firings at the Justice Department.
The flip side of this scenario is occurring right now. The culprits weren't Klansmen; they belonged to the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. One of the defendants, Jerry Jackson, is an elected member of Philadelphia's 14th Ward Democratic Committee and was a credentialed poll watcher for Barack Obama and the Democratic Party when the violations occurred. Rather conveniently, the Obama administration has asked that the cases against Mr. Jackson, two other defendants and the party be dropped.
The Voting Rights Act is very clear. It prohibits any "attempt to intimidate, threaten or coerce" any voter or those aiding voters.
The explanation for moving to dismiss the case is shocking. According to the Department of Justice: "These same Defendants have made no appearance and have filed no pleadings with the Court. Nor have they otherwise raised any other defenses to this action. Therefore, the United States has the right ... to dismiss voluntarily this action against the Defendants." In other words, because the defendants haven't tried to defend themselves, the Justice Department won't punish them.
By that logic, if a murderer doesn't respond to the charges, he should be let free. That's crazy.
The Obama Justice Department did take one action against one of the four defendants: It forbade him from again "displaying a weapon within 100 feet of any open polling location" in Philadelphia. Given that it already was illegal to display a weapon at a polling place and that he was not even enjoined from carrying a weapon at polling places outside of Philadelphia, it is hard to see what this order accomplished.
We asked the Justice Department if it was unable to provide any explanation for dropping the case. Justice press aide Alejandro Miyar merely said: "That is correct." Multiple times we asked both the department and the White House to comment on charges that the dismissals represented political bias. We received no substantive response.
Hans Von Spakovsky, a legal scholar at the Heritage Foundation and a former commissioner at the Federal Election Commission, tells us, "In my experience, I have never heard of the department refusing to take a default judgment... . If a Republican administration had done this, it would be front-page news and every civil rights group in the country would be screaming about it."
Consider that the behavior of the defendants was so bad that witness Bartle Bull, a former Robert F. Kennedy organizer who did extensive legal work on behalf of black voters in Mississippi, testified it was "the most blatant form of voter discrimination I have encountered in my life."
Eric Eversole, a former litigation attorney with the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, told us: "It is truly unprecedented for the Voting Section to voluntarily dismiss a case of such blatant intimidation. The video speaks for itself."
We couldn't agree more. After the 2000 Presidential election, Democrats complained about voter intimidation in Florida by pointing to a police car that had been two miles away from a polling place. The police didn't do anything to anyone, but their presence was deemed sufficient to vaguely intimidate people en route to the polls. In this case, the New Black Panther Party actually blocked access to a poll.
Unlike the Florida incident, this case involving the New Black Panthers screams out for tough justice. Instead, the Obama administration looks the other way. This all but invites racial violence at future elections.
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By Robert N. Tracci
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