Molly K. Hooper, The Hill, July 12, 2009
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said Holder has ignored at least three letters sent over the past month from Republicans demanding to know why Justice dismissed charges of voter intimidation filed against two members of the “New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense” (NBPP).
NBPP National Chairman Milik Zulu Shabazz and party member Jerry Jackson both faces charges for violating the Voting Rights Act for engaging in coercion, threats and intimidation and attempted coercion, threats, and intimidation of voters and those aiding voters at a Philadelphia polling station on November 4th, 2008.
Charges against the Black Panthers were originally filed when President George W. Bush was in power.
A spokeswoman for Justice said facts did not back up the charges, and that career officials at Justice, not political appointees, decided to drop the charges.
Holder let stand one of the four original charges though. The leader of the black nationalist group’s Philadelphia chapter, Minister King Samir Shabazz, is charged with brandishing a “deadly weapon,” a nightstick, outside of the polls.
As a result, he was punished with not being able to brandish a weapon within 100 ft. of a polling station in Philadelphia until after the 2012 elections.
Wolf, ranking member of the House Judiciary subcommittee that funds Justice, has called on Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) to hold a hearing into the matter. He said one of the Black Panther members was allegedly carrying a local Democratic committee card.
In a letter to Conyers, Wolf wrote that Justice’s inaction ‘merits congressional attention, if only to force the department to explain its decision to dismiss this case.”
He noted that Conyers held 70-hearings on the political firings of several U.S. Attorneys under former Bush.
Conyers has not ruled out holding an investigative hearing but wants to take the situation “one-step at a time,” Democratic committee sources said.
These sources said Conyers told Holder to respond to the GOP request for answers after speaking with Wolf about the matter on Thursday.
According to an affidavit filed by veteran voting rights activist Bartle Bull, who monitored elections in Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement, the New Black Panther’s directed racist comments towards white poll workers such as “you are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker.”
Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.) says those charges are “bull.”
The congressman, who also chairs the Philadelphia Democratic Party, said he went to the polling station on election day last year after hearing about reports of threatening behavior, but found no evidence.
“They weren’t intimidating anybody, they didn’t try to suppress any votes,” said Brady.
[Editor’s Note: Earlier stories about the New Black Panthers’ intimidation of votes are listed at the end of this story.]