- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

The New Black Panther Party catapulted itself to national attention during the November 2008 presidential election when two of its members, one brandishing a nightstick, were captured on videotape intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place.

But the original Black Panther Party, which famously advocated black power and preached self-defense through confrontation in the 1960s and 1970s, is not happy with the new upstart. It has condemned the New Black Panther Party and its tactics, saying the NBPP “stole” the party’s name for its “own misguided purposes.”

The Huey P. Newton Foundation Inc., created in 1993 and co-founded by Fredrika Newton, Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton’s widow, said in a statement that the original party was “never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the white establishment … but operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.

“As guardian of the true history of the Black Panther Party, the foundation, which includes former leading members of the party, denounces this group’s exploitation of the party’s name and history,” the statement said. “Failing to find its own legitimacy in the black community, this band would graft the party’s name upon itself, which we condemn.

“There is no New Black Panther Party,” the statement said, describing the NBPP as “a small band of African Americans calling themselves the New Black Panthers.” It said the NBPP has “no legitimate claim on the party’s name” and that it “only pretends to walk in the footsteps of the party’s true heroes.”

The denouncement by the foundation, which now operates community-based literacy, voter outreach and health-related programs, is not the only challenge facing the NBPP.

Some lawmakers are asking why a civil complaint brought by the Justice Department against the organization for its actions at the Philadelphia polling place was later dismissed against the party and two of its members, despite what they have described as compelling evidence that would-be voters were intimidated.

They have demanded access to the career lawyers who brought the complaint and to the political appointees who eventually ordered its dismissal. They also have called on the department to refile the civil charges.

The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates allegations of misconduct involving department lawyers, said in August that it had begun an official inquiry into the complaint’s dismissal, but Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican and a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, have questioned the sincerity of that probe.

In a letter last week to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., they asked whether the Justice Department was using the OPR investigation as a “means to continue stonewalling Congress in this matter.”

“After three months of investigating, the Office of Professional Responsibility has yet to provide Congress with a clear explanation for why the Civil Rights Division dismissed the complaint,” they said. “Congress and the American people must have confidence that the department’s Voting Rights Act enforcement is free of improper political motives.

“It is important for Congress, in furtherance of its oversight obligations, to receive answers before the end of this year — before we enter a political season so that voters can be assured that voter intimidation will not be tolerated,” they said.

Both lawmakers challenged the department’s explanations for the dismissal; Mr. Wolf described them as “incomplete and faulty” and Mr. Smith said they were “vague justifications.”

Also, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is conducting a separate investigation into the complaint’s dismissal and has reminded the Justice Department that as an independent agency answerable to Congress and the president, it has the power to issue subpoenas to top department officials, including Mr. Holder.

The commission, in a letter to Mr. Holder, said its obligation under the law is to ensure that civil rights laws are enforced and, to that end, it has the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents.

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