The Case Against the New Black Panthers
Abigail Thernstrom is wrong to belittle this shocking episode.


Andrew C. McCarthy

‘Forget about the New Black Panther Party case,” writes Abigail Thernstrom. It’s “very small potatoes.” She is suddenly upset over the “overheated rhetoric filled with insinuations and unsubstantiated charges” about the case that she grudgingly admits may “perhaps” have been a civil-rights violation. So she has explained in an NRO op-ed. Naturally, her “conservative dissent” has been seized on by the “nothing to see here” Left, which can now get back to its preferred big-potatoes-diet of Bristol Palin, Karl Rove subpoenas, and leaking classified information.

It was just a year ago, before we knew some truly outrageous details that have since come to light, that Thernstrom was sounding plenty heated herself. In a letter dated June 22, 2009, she scolded Loretta King, the Obama Justice Department’s top civil-rights enforcer, writing that she and other members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights were

gravely concerned about the Civil Rights Division’s actions in this case and feel strongly that the dismissal of this case weakens the agency’s moral obligation to prevent voting rights violations, including acts of voter intimidation or vote suppression. We cannot understand the rationale for this case’s dismissal and fear that it will confuse the public on how the Department of Justice will respond to claims of voter intimidation.

No conservative dissent there. Thernstrom, the Commission’s vice-chair, pronounced that the Panthers “were caught on video engaging in voter suppression.” She demanded that this top Justice Department official explain the evidentiary and legal rationale for dismissing such a case.

And now? She’s apparently decided that her eyes deceived her. It no longer matters to Thernstrom what the Panthers were doing in front of that Philadelphia polling station because, after all, it was a majority-black precinct that had voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in previous elections. That, she told the Washington Post, would not have been a prime spot for intimidating white voters.

Memo to Thernstrom: That would be the prime spot for intimidating white voters. Gangsters maraud in the places where they know that the community has been cowed, not where it is likely they will meet resistance and law enforcement. The Panthers’ purpose wasn’t just to intimidate the white voters; it was to demonstrate to law-abiding black and white residents that, in Philadelphia, the Panthers are untouchable — a proposition the Justice Department has helped them prove.

But what about the Panthers’ intimidating uniforms and jackboots? Don’t be silly, Thernstrom now counters. After all, “the boots were no different from a pair my husband owns.” Oh, I see: How could anyone think these friendly Panthers — who were heard telling spectators, “You’re about to be ruled by the black man, cracker” — were any more intimidating than . . . Stephan Thernstrom? That’s the first thing that popped into my head upon reading about Panther leader King Samir Shabazz serenading blacks with enticements like, “You want freedom? You’re gonna have to kill some crackers! You’re gonna have to kill some of their babies!”