EDITORIAL: Holder’s Black Panther blind spot

Justice Department ignores black-on-white crime

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What is it about the Justice Department and the Black Panthers? On March 24, Mikhail Muhammad, leader of the New Black Panther Party, offered a $10,000 bounty for the “capture” of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. The Panthers distributed wanted posters, calling him a “child killer” and offering the bounty “dead or alive.” Muhammad warned that Mr. Zimmerman “should be fearful for his life.”

These acts were almost certainly criminal. Florida Code 787.01 makes it a felony to threaten someone or abduct them with the intent to terrorize. Florida Code 777.04 further criminalizes solicitation which “commands, encourages, hires or requests another person” to engage in criminal activity such as kidnapping. Solicitation to kidnap is also a federal crime, and the fact that this was unambiguously racially-based brings it within the purview of federal hate-crime laws.

There is an important moral dimension at play as well. This scandal offers an opportunity for the Obama administration to show it can act impartially and calm racial tensions. So far, the White House has failed to lead on the issue. President Obama’s high-profile public statement - “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” - was bizarre and seemed to show undue bias. Taking swift action against those who seek to incite racial violence would demonstrate that the federal government enforces the law without prejudice.

The Justice Department has yet to step up. Mr. Zimmerman’s worried family sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking, “Why, when the law of the land is crystal clear, is your office not arresting the New Black Panthers for hate crimes?… Since when can a group of people put a bounty on someone’s head, circulate Wanted posters publicly, and still be walking the streets?” They are still awaiting a response.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Holder’s department has been accused on being soft on black radicals. In 2009, Justice was pressured into acting against two Black Panthers who showed up armed and made threats to voters at a Philadelphia polling place during the 2008 election. Some charges were later narrowed and most were withdrawn. This light touch prompted internal and independent investigations into why the Black Panthers were not brought to justice.

Attorney J. Christian Adams, who resigned from Justice in 2010 to protest the handling of the Black Panther case, testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that he was told “cases are not going to be brought against black defendants for the benefit of white victims.” The December 2010 Civil Rights Commission report on its investigation said, “While the department has issued general statements that it enforces the laws without regard to race, these assurances do not confirm, deny or explain the specific allegations of misconduct.” In March 2011, Mr. Holder claimed it was “simply false” that the Justice Department made enforcement decisions based on race. Now he has an opportunity to prove it by opening a criminal investigation against the Black Panthers.

The Washington Times

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