White House Pressure to Dismiss the New Black Panther Voter Intimidation Case Corrupts the Positive Message of Hope and Change
In March 2008, under pressure during the primary campaign to answer questions about his relationship to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, then-Senator Barack Obama delivered the first major address of his campaign. Speaking before from the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Obama made one of his first impassioned pleas to Americans for gathering at the fences that divided them to work together at mending them.
Elements of Obama’s tone-setting homily made their way his into stump speeches for weeks following, including one given at an Indiana town hall meeting in which Obama spoke out further in greater detail about the hurdles he felt prevented real progress from being made.
“We’ve got a tragic history when it comes to race in this country,” Obama said. “We’ve got a lot of pent-up anger and bitterness and misunderstanding. … This country wants to move beyond these kinds of things.”
Presumably, Obama’s reference “bitterness and misunderstanding” was a call-out to blacks and other minorities who continued to live in poverty, whose ancestors absolutely suffered systemic oppression, and who, in some cases, continue to deal with racially-based prejudice today. It makes sense also to assume that he was also including the more radical elements of both black and white society. White separatist groups, the Nation of Islam, and the New Black Panther Party – groups that amplify existing bitterness and misunderstanding in the communities they target – would have to be atop the presidential priority list in terms of an overall emphasis on moderating the U.S. dialogue on race.
Why then did White House officials put pressure on the Justice Department to dismiss a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panthers only days before a default finding of guilt was going to be issued?
Why has the Justice Department ordered the attorneys working the case to not comply with subpoenas issued by the independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights?
Since the story first broke to in May of 2009 — only to be judged as less-than-newsworthy by the bulk of the mainstream media as they viewed the facts through a pea soup fog of bias — The Washington Times has provided the bulk of the critical follow-up via their editorial page. The rest of the legitimate media is overdue to begin exhaustively investigating the White House’s part in spiking a racially-tinged case that would have sent a message of disapproval to violent radical racism in the United States.
The charges in the voter intimidation complaint filed by the Department of Justice in January of 2009 took place on Election Day 2008. Two members of the New Black Panther Party, clad in all-black paramilitary clothing – one wielding a nightstick (as seen in a student journalist’s camera phone video) – stood in front of the entrance to a polling place in Philadelphia. According to numerous accounts, the men used their physical presence and aggressive language, including racial slurs against whites and blacks, to intimidate voters attempting to go inside and cast ballots.
The decision by career attorneys in the Department of Justice was swift and by late December the formal complaint was being drafted to charge the two Black Panthers as well as the New Black Panther Party, who prosecutors felt had supervised and directed the actions of the men at the scene.
The Justice Department’s action was filed in early January 2009 but although the attorney for defendant Jerry Jackson verbally responded to promise a formal response to the charges, nothing was filed with the court nor did the defense appear at any proceedings. Lack of response being every indication of a non-existent defense, in April 2009, the Justice Department team on the case began to move forward, at the judge’s express request, with the paperwork for the judge to enter a default ruling in the case needing only rubber-stamped approval from supervising lawyers at Justice.
Then, with a slam-dunk win within reach, things became… political.
As has been meticulously documented by The Washington Times, on the day following the presentation of the draft default motion to acting supervisory attorneys Loretta King and Steven H. Rosenbaum, a domino-like pattern of meetings and decisions between newly confirmed Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli and a number of named and unnamed White House officials occurred.
After a frenzy of interactions between Justice, the White House – involving at one point lobbying by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for dismissal – on May 15, King issued the order to dismiss three of the four charges in the initial complaint against the Panthers.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was the lone member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to make on-the-record remarks about the shady path higher-ups at Justice took on the way to taking the action to spike the case.
“Inexplicably, according to the Washington Times, Justice Department political appointees overruled career attorneys and ended the civil complaint, dismissing two of the men from the lawsuit with no penalty and winning an order against the third man that simply prohibits him from bringing a weapon to a polling place in future elections – something that is already prohibited,” Sen. Sessions said.
He added that “[i]nstead of supporting the career attorneys who fought to protect the civil rights of voters in Pennsylvania, [Department of Justice] political appointees wiped out their good work.”
Although the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights took up the issue of the Justice Department’s handling of the case and had scheduled a hearing for February 12, that meeting was indefinitely postponed in anticipation of the blizzards that shut down the nation’s capital last month. A Commission official confirms that a new hearing date has not been set, although there is reason to speculate that an announcement may be forthcoming. Mother Nature’s whiteout indirectly enabled the Obama administration’s whiteout to continue but only temporarily.
In addition to the USCCR’s inquiry into the matter, The Washington Times reported Monday that Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) are pressing on the Justice Department inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, to open up an investigation of his own. Although Fine initially declined, Wolf and Smith have persisted in delivering a second letter to underline their determination to learn whether the White House used its influence over Justice to interfere with the Black Panther case.
Of particular interest are two of the meetings Perrelli had at the White House on May 6 and May 13. On both dates, White House visitor records show that Perrelli met with Deputy White House Counsel Cassandra Butts and an unnamed White House official during the period when the attorneys at Justice were arguing heatedly over the delay to make the motion for default entry against the Black Panthers.
Although an investigation is underway to determine the identity of ‘Official X,’ the findings may not be as material as the simple fact that a high-ranking White House official of any sort was in the room while a decision was being made to kill an open and shut case of voter intimidation. Regardless of the name of the mysterious participant it is clear that a deliberate effort at the highest levels of power was made to make the matter go away.
In order for the Obama administration to regain some high ground on its public statements regarding race, it must first allow the Justice Department to vigorously prosecute cases that strike at the heart of the democracy – voting – and that involve actors determined to keep America separated along racial lines, by aggressive and violent means if necessary.
President Obama should order Attorney General Eric Holder to release the original attorneys working on the case to comply with the USCCR subpoenas and to allow Inspector General Fine to conduct an inquiry to root out any unethical behavior. Finding the way to the post-racial America we were promised depends on it.
[Originally posted at UnequalTime.com: http://unequaltime.com/2010/03/the-obama-administration-and-the-black-panthers-postcards-from-post-racial-america/]