Yet another Republican attack charging “reverse racism” is in play, this one datelined Philadelphia.
The usual suspects – right-wing operatives, conservative media commentators and GOP Congressmen – are portraying two members of the New Black Panther Party, including of one carrying a baton, as having intimidated white voters during the November 4, 2008 presidential election where Obama defeated GOP candidate McCain.
A closer examination by ThisCantBeHappening! however reveals that, just like the doctored video that falsely implied that USDA official Shirley Sherrod was a racist who had denied farm aid to poor whites, this Philly claim of alleged black intimidation of white voters is just more trumped-up nonsense.
Ask Pennsylvania State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, a lawyer who knows a few things about the laws governing elections.
“No persons working at that polling place or voters there were intimidated,” said Rep Thomas (D-181), whose district office is located less than a mile from the Philadelphia polling place where conservatives claim NBPP members ran amuck.
For starters, consider that the NBPP pair in question, supposedly intent on intimidating white voters, only showed up in predominately black North Philadelphia at a polling place inside a predominately black elderly apartment building in a predominately black/Democratic ward, instead of choosing to menace voters in polling places located in predominately white communities, such as those located only one mile east and/or one mile west of that location.
But conservative ire over this alleged incident goes beyond the incident itself. (Certainly conservatives are not upset by a baton armed NBPP member when they applaud Tea Party/NRA members bringing loaded firearms to public meetings, including one with President Obama.)
Conservatives are howling at the refusal of the Obama Administration to prosecute charges filed against the NBPP in January 2009, in the waning days of the lame-duck Bush Justice Department.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) complains of being “deeply troubled” by Obama’s “questionable dismissal of an important voter intimidation” case in Philadelphia. (Earlier this year this same Rep. Wolf who found no fault in Virginia’s Republican governor issuing a proclamation for Confederate History Month that contained no mention of slavery – the reason for the South’s rebellion against the federal government.)
Conservatives claim Obama officials backed-off prosecuting the NBPP to placate blacks, dismissing the Obama Administration’s explanation that the case as filed did not contain election law violation proof sufficient to obtain convictions.
“I think the Obama Administration acted correctly in not pursuing voter intimidation that did not take place,” Thomas says. (The Obama Justice Department did obtain a court injunction barring that baton carrying NBPP from carrying a baton near polling places.)
One fact conveniently missing from the conservatives’ voter intimidation narrative here is the Bush Justice Department’s charge, lodged against the NBPP’s Washington, DC- based president, accusing him of ‘directing and managing’ his two Philadelphia followers.
This was a specious assertion made without strong supporting evidence, which attempted to bootstrap the already spurious Philadelphia incident into an attack on the entire national NBPP organization.
“The Panthers have no influence in black or Democratic Party leadership circles, but the Tea Party is the main influence in the Republican Party at this time,” writes noted political scientist and syndicated columnist Dr. Ron Walters.
“Still, I am amazed that major news organizations, so intimidated by the Right, will give credibility to this made-up story on the Panthers, on equal terms to the NAACP’s criticism of Tea Party racism.”
This amped-up right-wing attack on the NBPP, a small radical fringe group, and the Obama Administration shows striking parallels to conservative assaults on ACORN and more recent lashings on Sherrod.
Facts fundamental to understanding this NBPP affair have been conveniently excluded by the right-wing (no surprise there) but also by mainstream news media coverage, much as key parts of Sherrod’s address to the NAACP were deleted from the initial video hyped by right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart.
For example, glossed-over was that one member of that NBPP pair in question was an official poll watcher who was properly credentialed to monitor that polling place. That is to say, he was legally authorized to be there, plus he had knowledge regarding proper operations at that poll.
That credentialed poll watcher, Jerry Jackson, says he and fellow NBPP member Samir Shabazz (the baton carrier) went to that polling place to protect the elderly against threats of harassment that had been made by racist skinheads.
Jackson’s explanation for his being at the voting station is a fact that has been suppressed by right-wingers desperate to morph this molehill into a mountain to score political points against Obama (who ironically is a frequent target of NBPP criticism).
“How are we intimidating somebody at 12th and Fairmount in our community?” asked Jackson, a tall, dark-skinned man routinely talked about in news coverage of that incident but rarely talked to by any reporters. “The Skinheads showed up but they didn’t get arrested. We were there to secure our elders.”
Persons familiar with Jackson say this employed North Philly homeowner, like the Black Panthers of old, often assists with protecting seniors, consistently attends community meetings and regularly volunteers whenever someone is needed to help in that community. “He’s good people,” one North Philly activist/entrepreneur said about Jackson.
Rep. Thomas raises another important fact – universally excluded from the conservative narrative and from mainstream media coverage: improper conduct by white GOP operatives at that poll which triggered a verbal confrontation with Jackson and Shabazz, producing the inflammatory rhetoric from the NBPP pair which then led to the conservative voter intimidation charge.
“Republican Party operatives showed up in the afternoon demanding admission to the polling place, when they should have come at 6:45AM to be properly sworn-in. Jackson was familiar with the rules and wasn’t going to let them run rough shod,” Thomas says, adding that the ruckus erupted when the Republicans questioned why the NBPP was at the poll.
“Those Republicans were the only ones intimidated by Jackson and Shabazz. They were intimidated by their appearance, not by what they did,” Thomas contends.
The conservative NBPP narrative, echoed in mainstream media coverage, includes edited video from GOP operatives showing Jackson and Shabazz wearing the NBPP’s black, military style uniforms and spewing inventive-laden rhetoric. The recent right-wing onslaught against Shirley Sherrod used similarly craftily edited video clip that portrayed her as a racist by doctoring her remarks that were actually part of a talk about the need for racial reconciliation.
Philadelphia authorities declined to prosecute the NBPP pair for voter intimidation. That decision, according to the conservative narrative, arises from Philly authorities being Democrats who are always willing to give blacks breaks.
However, this right-wing claim clashes with the fact that Philadelphia’s District Attorney in 2008 was law-&-order Lynne Abraham, a white woman who proudly boasted of her hard-line policy of prosecuting infractions committed by persons of color. As any Philadelphian can attest, Abraham was certainly no friend of radical groups like the NBPP.
Philadelphia, an infamously political machine-dominated city, is no stranger to Election Day shenanigans. But during the past decade it’s been Republicans who were behind most election shenanigans in Philadelphia’s minority communities, not the Democratic machine.
In 2006, the Bush Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia accusing it of violating the rights of Hispanic voters by having too few Spanish language interpreters available on Election Day. The Justice Department wanted to place ‘observers’ at polling places to remedy this problem, but not interpreters. (Nationwide, it has generally been Republicans who have sought to do away with the inclusion of Spanish and other languages on ballots.)
“The Republicans wanted to put monitors at the polls dressed in dark suits looking like FBI agents. This was political intimidation and we joined with Latino leaders fighting against it,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of Philadelphia’s NAACP branch.
Also in 2006, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state legislature approved legislation that shifted scores of polling place locations – many in minority communities’ – just weeks before the November election. Many saw this legislative move as an attempt to cripple voter turnout by minorities, who are heavily Democratic.
During the November 2004 presidential election, a GOP operative claiming to have discovered vote rigging at a poll less than a mile from site of the NBPP current alleged intimidation incident reported his inaccurate “discovery” to the conservative Drudge Report website.
The early morning Drudge Report posting obligingly triggered intense media coverage that disrupted voting at that North Philadelphia polling place.
“It was hard for people to vote because there were so many reporters around here all day,” the election judge at that poll told a reporter that day.
“We told that person who filed the [Drudge report] that there were no problems and showed him how the machines worked and the entire voting process. But he was arrogant and wouldn’t listen. I guess he felt we didn’t know what we were doing and we were trying to help elect Kerry.”
Breitbart, the person behind the doctored ACORN and Sherrod attack videos, once served as an editor at the Drudge Report.
Lying behind this latest right-wing effort to attack the NBPP, and through it, the Obama administration is this reality: The George W. Bush Administration pursued significantly fewer voting rights violation cases than previous administrations and the Bush Administration purged experienced voting rights personnel from the Justice Department, replacing them with people exhibiting strong conservative credentials but little civil rights experience.
LINN WASHINGTON is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues John Grant, Dave Lindorff and Charles Young, can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net