WASHINGTON — An ongoing investigation into the Justice Department’s handling of a voter intimidation case involving a Black militant group is less a quest for justice and more a “witch hunt,” said one official.
“It’s all about people trying to continue the lie that there’s a double standard for Whites and Blacks under an Obama administration; that somehow if you’re African American and you’re racist you get better treatment,” Commissioner Michael Yaki told the AFRO at a hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights late last month. “It goes back to the whole Reverend Wright thing that they tried to do during the campaign…. They’re trying to make this about White vs. Black; they’re trying to increase racial tensions; they’re trying to create more of a race divide in this country, and I will not stand for it.”
In the daylong hearing at the Commission’s offices in Washington, D.C., a video was shown of two members of the New Black Panther Party—both wearing all-black paramilitary uniforms and one wielding a nightstick—standing outside a Philadelphia voting precinct.
Three Republican Party poll watchers also testified that Minister King Samir Shabazz, who held the club, and Jerry Jackson, who lived in the building and was a registered poll official, intimidated both voters and election workers and hurled racial epithets.
“Looking at the evidence, if this is not a clear case of voter intimidation, I don’t know what is,” testified U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., reflecting sentiments shared by most of the commissioners. What is not clear, he continued, is whether politics influenced the Justice Department to “dismiss” the case against the advice of agency career lawyers—the Department did, in fact, file an injunction against Shabazz, barring him from coming within 100 feet of Philadelphia polling places until the end of the 2012 elections. The Department later dropped cases against Jackson, NBPP leader Malik Zulu Shabazz and the organization itself, citing First Amendment concerns.
“What should be bipartisan support for robust voting rights enforcement has become a shameful example of the types of partisan obstruction that undermine our nation’s civil rights laws,” said Wolf.
However, some commissioners questioned if Wolf was the one acting on partisan motives, however, asking if his level of concern would be the same if the incident had occurred under President Bush and taking issue with his equation of this case to the atrocities of the Jim Crow era.
“I abhor the New Black Panther Party, but it does become a problem for me that we are pursuing this case so narrowly,” said Commission Vice Chairman Abigail Thernstrom, referring to the lack of other reports of intimidation by the NBPP in Pennsylvania or elsewhere that would justify the level of interest.
She later told Wolf, “I don’t like the comparison to Jim Crow South; we’re not in Mississippi in the 1950s and it does a disservice to this country to suggest [that].” Several other testy exchanges took place, particularly when Shabazz took pictures of the witnesses. “He didn’t just take pictures of the witnesses; he stood in front of them so they could see him taking pictures of them,” Gaziano said. “It looked like another attempt to intimidate witnesses giving testimony to a federal commission….that’s a serious offense in itself that was taking place under our very noses.”
Shabazz denied the charges against him, saying they were there in response to flyers saying that skinheads would be at the polls. But, he called the ruling against him “clear-cut justice.”
NBPP Chief of Staff Minister Hashim Nzinga called the hearing a farce that “reeks with hypocrisy and the stench of a political vendetta.”“We are not some kind of political football to be used in the battle between the left and the right,” he said in a statement. “So leave us the hell alone and let us fight poverty…ignorance [and] violence in our community and all the negative effects that White racism and discrimination has visited upon us.”
Yaki said he wishes the Obama administration would be left alone as well.
“This administration is enforcing hate crimes, enforcing voting rights; it is trying to revitalize a civil rights tradition that was horribly politicized by the Bush administration,” he said.
The Commission’s majority reflects that politicization, he continued. The eight-member panel is comprised of four Republicans; two independents, one of whom works at a conservative think-tank; and two Democrats.
“These are people who did not vote for Obama, will not support Obama and are actively supporting the Right Wing of the Republican Party to discredit him,” Yaki said. “Unfortunately, they have the votes and they’re probably going to do a report that condemns the Obama administration for treating Black voting right intimidators better than Whites. All I can do is try to create enough doubt in the record [but] the facts are not going to get in the way of what they want to do.”