The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has given U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder an April 12 deadline to state whether the Justice Department will stop stonewalling an investigation of alleged voter intimidation involving three members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense in Philadelphia.
A letter from Commission Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds to Holder declares that the organization’s efforts to obtain information from the Justice Department are at an “impasse.”
The commission wants to know why the department dismissed a complaint filed against several New Black Panther defendants who were videotaped confronting a cameraman and brandishing a nightstick outside a polling place.
Bartle Bull, an author and civil rights veteran who ran RFK’s 1968 presidential campaign, was observing the Fairmont Street polling station in Philadelphia when the incident occurred. Bull filed an affidavit that stated he overheard one of the men tell a white poll observer, “You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker.”
Bull, a former publisher of the Village Voice, was awarded the 2003 civil rights medal by the late liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy for his voting-rights work in Mississippi. He was monitoring polling activities on Election Day 2008 in his role as chairman of New York’s Democrats for McCain organization.
Bull’s affidavit described the incident as “the most blatant form of voter intimidation I have encountered in my life in political campaigns in many states, even going back to the work I did in Mississippi in the 1960s.”
Bull tells Newsmax he believes the incident was part of a larger campaign to intimidate poll watchers, who were trying to expose voters who had been fraudulently registered by the now-defunct ACORN organization.
He adds that he was “appalled but not surprised” when the Holder Justice Department announced it was dropping the case. “Eric Holder’s job is to defend the supporters of the administration,” he says.
Reynolds’ letter states that the department “appears to have failed to prosecute this case in a robust manner,” and by so doing “it appears to have provided hate groups of every ilk a precedent that will assist them in avoiding liability for voter intimidation.”
The commission isn’t the only group getting stiff-armed while trying to find out why the department dropped the case.
“We’ve been stalled as well,” Tom Fitton, president of the nonprofit Judicial Watch organization, tells Newsmax.
Fitton says Judicial Watch filed Freedom of Information Act inquiries on the case several months ago and has received no response.
Although Fitton plans to let the administration process continue to play out, he tells Newsmax “It’s looking more and more like we’ve going to have to sue in the end.”
The Washington Times reported Monday that, according to unnamed sources in the department, the Voting Rights Section had been on the verge of seeking judgments against the men when Loretta King, who was acting assistant attorney general, issued a delay order.
That delay reportedly came after a meeting with Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli. The Times reports that Perrelli. the department’s No. 3 political appointee, approved dismissing the charges.
The Civil Rights Commission is seeking to obtain testimony on the New Black Panthers decision from Justice Department personnel. It also seeks documents reflecting any communications among Loretta King, Holder, and Perrelli.
“I think it’s particularly ironic that the nation’s first black attorney general, the first black president, are in a fight with the civil rights commission on a voting rights case,” [Fitton] says.
The civil rights commission is an independent, bipartisan unit of the federal government, charged with investigating and reporting on civil rights issues, especially those affect a citizen’s right to vote. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., also has been pushing the Justice Department to justify dropping the charges.
Both the original Black Panthers, and the Huey P. Newton Foundation, have condemned the New Black Panthers group, saying on its Web site that it “serves to incite hatred rather than resolve it.”