America is a land of makeovers, but there should be limits. This week I had to rub my eyes in disbelief when I saw Malik Zulu Shabazz, the former radical head of the New Black Panther Party, on TV amid the rioting in Ferguson, Mo.
Shabazz is now head of something called Black Lawyers for Justice, and he has set himself up as a “peacemaker” in Ferguson. Last weekend, he hijacked the news conference of Missouri Highway Patrol captain Ron Johnson to take credit for keeping things under control: “My group and — thanks to you — my organizers, along with the New Black Panther Party and the Nation of Islam, we are the ones who put those men in the streets, and we controlled the flow of traffic.” Johnson agreed that Shabazz and his group had indeed helped out.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking a lot of questions about Shabazz’s presence in Ferguson. On the one hand, Shabazz blames “intentional provocateurs” and “outside infiltrators” for the violence in Ferguson. On the other hand, in the past it has been Shabazz and his ilk who have been the “outside infiltrators” creating chaos and stirring up hatred. Jesse Jackson is in Ferguson calling the Brown shooting a “state execution.” The egregious Al Sharpton is speaking at Michael Brown’s funeral. During the Trayvon Martin case, Sharpton called the acquittal of George Zimmerman an “atrocity.” Hashim Nzinga, the New Black Panther Party’s current leader, put a bounty on George Zimmerman’s head. He is now in Ferguson whipping up the crowds against what he calls President Obama’s weak reaction to Brown’s death: “He need to go back to his roots and stop people from killing Africans in the streets.”
In Ferguson, the New Black Panthers are apparently playing a double game. At some points they join with their former leader Shabazz to help direct traffic, but at others they fuel the flames of violence. Marie Chappelle-Nadal, a Democratic member of the Missouri Senate, has denounced “anarchists from the New Black Panther party” who are inciting protesters to attack the police. Indeed, the Independent Journal Review reported that Shabazz himself was in the streets last Saturday leading a crowd in a chant for the death of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown: “What do we want?” “Darren Wilson!” “How do we want him?” “Dead!”
The New Black Panther Party and its past and present leaders are the same old kind of cats they’ve always been: purveyors of hate. The Anti-Defamation League describes them as “the largest organized anti-Semitic and racist black militant group in America.”
Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to Ferguson this week to help direct the dozens of Justice Department personnel on the ground there. I’d like to think some of those agents will be probing the “outside infiltrators” that Senator Chappelle-Nadal says are stoking the violence there. But I have my doubts.
Eric Holder’s Justice Department has frequently enforced civil-rights laws on a racial basis, most notoriously when the department dropped a case it had already won against New Black Panther Party members who intimidated voters in front of a Philadelphia polling place in 2008. Instead of sending the message that racial intolerance from either whites or blacks is unacceptable, the DOJ squelched the case. Bartle Bull, a former civil-rights lawyer and former publisher of the proudly left-wing Village Voice, called the 2008 New Black Panther incident “the most blatant form of voter intimidation I’ve ever seen.” A federal-district-court judge later found that internal Justice Department documents about the New Black Panther case contradicted sworn testimony that no political leadership at DOJ was involved in the decision to dismiss the case.
Furthermore, when the U.S. Civil Rights Commission subpoenaed DOJ lawyers to obtain their testimony in its investigation of the improper dismissal of the New Black Panther case, DOJ didn’t just refuse to enforce the subpoenas — the lawyers were instructed to ignore the subpoenas and not comply with them.
Everyone should want justice in Ferguson and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. And legitimate grievances — such as the skewed timing by which majority-black Ferguson holds its local elections — must be addressed. Holding elections in the spring guarantees a very low voter turnout and helps keep Ferguson’s old, white power structure in office.
But the Justice Department’s heavy footprint in Ferguson comes with some baggage. In the past, it hasn’t been an honest broker on civil-rights issues, and indeed in the New Black Panther case, it sent signals that outrageous conduct on the part of certain racially favored groups would be tolerated. That’s not an approach that is likely to calm things down in Ferguson. The situation calls for a more even-handed approach that holds both the local police and the protesters accountable for their behavior.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO and co-author, with Hans von Spakovsky, of Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.