Friday, August 20, 2010

The Civil Rights Commission, the New Black Panther Party, and the dogged pursuit of Selective Justice


Long time readers of the blog will note that I am no fan of the US Commission on Civil Rights. I have been very critical of the Commission and have been writing about its dysfunction since 2007 (See HERE, and HERE, and HERE, and HERE).

But the recent Black Panther Party investigation is perhaps instructive, because when viewed in context, it says far more about the commission itself than its commitment to justice. Consider the following recent cases:

Albuquerque New Mexico - 2008: State Representative Justine Fox-Young held a press conference in which she claimed to have proof that a number of citizens had voted illegally in the primary elections. She then proceeded to release the names of those people (all minorities) to the press. After the citizens (who had been registered to vote by ACORN) were later found to be legal voters, some of them were then visited in their homes by private investigators who interrogated them.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Craven County, North Carolina - 2008: A man by the name of William Harper placed a real casket by an active polling station in Craven County, NC. The casket featured two photos of then candidate Barack Obama. The pictures also had what some described as a red noose-like shape around the Senator's head and the pictures were titled "O' No!"
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - 2008: A flier was distributed in some largely African American Philadelphia neighborhoods. It stated that people with legal troubles or unpaid traffic violations would be arrested by undercover cops when they showed up to vote. It also said that cars with unpaid tickets would be towed.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Fayetteville, North Carolina - 2008: After a rally, supporters of the Candidate Barack Obama went to an early polling center where they were literally harassed and heckled by a group of protesters as they went in to vote.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Virginia Tech University - 2008: Students were told that if the registered to vote in Virginia that they could lose their scholarship or tax dependency status, and that they would have to re-register their cars and obtain new drivers licenses.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not investigate.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - 2008: Voters reported receiving robocalls telling them that Election Day was November 5th.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Cleveland, Ohio - 2008: Voters were falsely told that they could send in absentee ballots as late as November 14th.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

North Carolina - 2008: Fliers were left on cars at a shopping mall instructing Republicans to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 4th (actual Election Day) and Democrats to vote on Wednesday Nov. 5th.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Kansas City, Missouri - 2008: Reports from voters at a largely African American polling location, indicated they were being warned of a 6-8 hour wait to vote (despite the line being short) and being forced to put their names on a list while in line to vote.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Dearborn, Michigan - 2008: Voters reported seeing uniformed police officers scanning the lines to look for voters with outstanding warrants.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.


Colorado - 2010: In US District Court, a coalition of voting rights groups came together and sued Colorado's Secretary of State Mike Coffman for illegally removing over 27,000 mostly minority voters from the rolls. They filed a temporary restraining order to get those names reinstated and to ensure additional names cannot be removed before Election Day.
The Civil Rights Commission took NO action, filed no charges, and did not call for an investigation.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - 2008: A reporter videotaped two young African American men wearing black military type outfits pacing in front of a polling place with one of the young men carrying a nightstick. The young men were both members of a group calling itself the New Black Panther Party and the reporter alleged that the pair was intimidating White voters.
The Civil Rights Commission called for a full investigation and prosecution of the two young men and the entire New Black Panther Party organization. 

The Justice Department investigated the case, filed voter intimidation charges and won an injunction against King Samir Shabazz, who was the young man brandishing the nightstick.

To sustain a Civil Rights charge against the organization as a whole, you would have to be able to prove that the organization was actively engaged in a "campaign of intimidation". In this case, the Philadelphia polling place where King Samir Shabazz was pacing was the only one where an incident occurred, and the incident was publicly disavowed on the New Black panther Party's website prior to any civil action being initiated. Their site read: "Specifically, in the case of Philadelphia, the New Black Panther Party wishes to express that the actions of people purported to be members do not represent the official views of the New Black Panther Party and are not connected nor in keeping with our official position as a party." For that reason, and that there were no actual calls or complaints filed by any voters at the precinct, and no witnesses who could provide any insight or evidence of any broader conspiracy, the charges against the organization were dropped due to insufficient evidence.

The Civil Rights Commission has now requested the authority from Congress to file a lawsuit against the Department of Justice. On the Civil Rights Commissions website, the only hearings they've held since December of 2009 (save one briefing on age discrimination) all pertain to this case.

Two dissenting members of the Commission spoke about the continuing investigation during a hearing in May:

Abigail Thernstrom, a long-time Republican member of the commission, said she was not happy that the investigation has taken up so much of their time. She called the New Black Panther Party "nothing in my view but a lunatic fringe view." She added that in her view, the November 2008 incident was an isolated event with no analogy to the history of voter intimidation in the South.

"Far too much of our time has been consumed on this seemingly unnecessary investigation," said Commissioner Arlan Menendez, who was appointed by Democrats. "No citizen has even alleged that he or she was intimidated. This absence of voter intimidation was clear to the Justice Department last spring," and should be clear to the members of this commission as well, he said.

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