The New Black Panthers’ Unpunished Threats
The Department of Justice appears uninterested in pursuing the group.

Mikhail Muhammad, leader of the New Black Panther Party


John Fund

Indeed, a relative of George Zimmerman wrote to Attorney General Holder this week noting the threats. “The Zimmerman family is in hiding because of the threats that have been made against us, yet the DOJ has maintained an eerie silence in this matter,” read the letter, which was obtained by the Daily Caller. “Why, when the law of the land is crystal clear, is your office not arresting the New Black Panthers for hate crimes? . . . Since when can a group of people in the United States put a bounty on someone’s head, circulate Wanted posters publicly, and still be walking the streets?” The DOJ’s public-affairs office has not responded to inquiries by reporters asking if Holder’s statement on federal civil-rights crimes also applies to the New Black Panther Party.

Holder’s Justice Department has taken a pass on the New Black Panther Party in the past. In 2009, it inherited from the outgoing Bush administration a civil-rights lawsuit against the Party and three of its members for showing up armed outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 and shouting racial threats at voters. Bartle Bull, a former civil-rights lawyer who had been arrested in the South in the 1960s and later went on to become publisher of the liberal Village Voice, actually witnessed the intimidation and reported the Panthers’ actions to Justice.

When the defendants failed to answer Justice’s lawsuit, a federal court in Philadelphia entered a default judgment against them. The Holder Justice Department responded by snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, suddenly dropping the charges against the Panthers and two defendants. The third defendant was merely barred from displaying a weapon near a Philadelphia polling place for the next three years. The bizarre decision prompted congressional outcries and a formal investigation by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which sent a letter to Justice in August 2009 saying, “We believe the Department’s defense of its actions thus far undermines respect for rule of law.” The Commission later issued a harshly condemnatory report of Justice’s behavior in the case. Could Justice’s leniency encourage the Panthers to think they can act with impunity in the future?

Bartle Bull says he is very concerned that Justice is practicing a double standard when it comes to enforcing civil-rights laws. “When he took office, Attorney General Holder stated that America was a ‘nation of cowards’ when it comes to race,” he told me in 2010. “But who are today’s ‘cowards’ on race? This kind of double standard is not what Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy stood for.”

— John Fund, a writer based in New York, is the author of Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy.