- - Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Obama’s choice represents a slap in every policeman’s face

The media focus on President Obama’s Obamacare problems, Benghazi and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “traffic jam that shook the world” has missed a developing firestorm burning within U.S. law enforcement circles.

The president’s recent nomination of a former “Sesame Street” performer turned radical civil rights lawyer, Debo Adegbile, to be assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice is a step too far for those familiar with Mr. Adegbile’s record and background.

He isn’t the first questionable nomination made by a president who, for one reason or another, seems drawn to those with radical backgrounds, but this one is an open slap in the face to everyone in law enforcement.

As an FBI agent in the 1970s and ‘80s, I sometimes found myself assigned to investigate a “44.” That is bureau-speak for cases involving complaints against law enforcement officers for excessive force that is alleged to have deprived people of their civil rights.

These investigations required questioning of police officers and departments we worked with every day. I did my job as a law enforcement professional, even though that involved the awkward task of reading the accused police officer his or her Miranda rights as a matter of policy.

Agents could not exercise discretion to close a clearly unfounded case. We acted instead as federal note-takers, whose investigative reports were forwarded to the Civil Rights Division, where all prosecutorial decisions were made.

The career, family finances and freedom of the officer under investigation ultimately turned not on our investigation, but on the objectivity and fairness of the division’s lawyers and their ability to tell the difference between good, aggressive policing and abusive, illegal behavior.

That was then, but this is now. In today’s aggressively partisan political atmosphere, no government institution seems free from the most odious political and ideological behavior. Sadly, that includes the Justice Department of Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., who presides over the most politicized Justice Department in my memory.

Mr. Obama’s first chief of the Civil Rights Division was Thomas Perez, a radical former Montgomery County Council member from Takoma Park, Md., whose relationship with law enforcement was antagonistic at best. He recently became the secretary of labor, thus creating the opening for Mr. Adegbile.

Mr. Adegbile was an NAACP lawyer whose main claim to fame at the Legal Defense Fund was volunteering to handle the death-row appeal of notorious cop killer Wesley Cook, aka Mumia Abu Jamal. Abu Jamal somehow turned his 1981 conviction for the vicious ambush-killing of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner into a cause celebre for the Brie and Chablis crowd of the far left.

He was sentenced to death after a trial that delivered overwhelming evidence of his guilt. The evidence and his conviction, however, didn’t stop the radical left from embracing Abu Jamal as a victim of a racist justice system and even more racist police officers.

Mr. Adegbile’s team took to that cause with gusto, participating in a legal and public relations circus that demonized the deceased officer and law enforcement officers in general.

Ultimately, Abu Jamal’s death sentence was converted to life without parole while groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund were able to fundraise over the bullet-riddled corpse of Faulkner. Now, in what looks and feels like the administration’s middle-finger salute to law enforcement, Mr. Adegbile is poised to become the head of the Justice Department unit that has the power to “transform” American law enforcement through intimidation of officers and onerous consent decrees for their agencies.

The law enforcement community is fighting back, arguing that Mr. Adegbile is unqualified to hold the Justice Department position owing to the Legal Defense Fund’s participation in the loathsome work on behalf of Abu Jamal. Proponents argue that a lawyer should not be criticized for taking on an unpopular client, but at what point do a lawyer’s actions, and body of work, simply cross the line and disqualify him from serving in a senior law enforcement position at the Department of Justice? The answer to that question is like identifying pornography: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

In Mr. Adegbile’s case, I side with the Fraternal Order of Police and the other law enforcement groups that have weighed in against this appointee. Mr. Adegbile’s team did not merely advance aggressive legal arguments on behalf of their client. His team wallowed in race-baiting and cop-bashing vitriol that make it difficult to separate out his personal beliefs.

He volunteered to take on the case and further advance Abu Jamal’s status as a left-wing cult hero, immersing the Legal Defense Fund in a public campaign of racial smears for which there was no basis in fact.

As a lawyer, I know our criminal justice system is far from perfect, and I can represent any client and vigorously defend his legal interests. However, I understand that if I participate in activities on behalf of an unrepentant cop killer that are repugnant to the law enforcement community and far out of the mainstream, and my body of work displays a penchant for viewing life through an extreme racial prism that calls my objectivity and fairness into question, I would not expect to be considered for a sensitive position like chief of the Civil Rights Division.

No law enforcement officer could ever expect to get a fair review from Mr. Adegbile, and law enforcement agencies should certainly expect an onslaught of race-based challenges to established crime-fighting tactics that could make good, aggressive law enforcement a career-damaging proposition.

Neither of those results would be beneficial for law enforcement or enhance the safety of the American public. Mr. Adegbile should not be confirmed by the Senate.

Carl Rowan Jr., a private-security executive in Washington and a member of the District of Columbia Bar, is a former deputy U.S. marshal, FBI special agent and chief of police.

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