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CIVIL RIGHTS

CIVIL RIGHTS: WHO ARE THE “COWARDS”?

Bartle Bull

On taking office as Attorney General of the United States, Eric Holder stated that America is a nation of “cowards” when it comes to race and that he would commit the Department of Justice to making civil rights cases a top priority. President Obama himself promised to “reinvigorate federal civil rights enforcement,” especially by prosecuting cases of voting discrimination against blacks.

        On May 15 Obama’s Department of Justice quashed a civil rights case involving voter intimidation by blacks in Philadelphia on election day, 2008.

        As New York chairman of Democrats for McCain, I had gone to Philadelphia on election day to work as a volunteer at polling places. An old hand at election work, I had been Robert Kennedy’s New York campaign manager in 1968, had worked for Charles Evers when he ran for governor of Mississippi in 1971, and had worked in South Carolina against Strom Thurmond in 1978. In Mississippi I had stopped the voting in the towns of Red Lick and Midnight and made them remove nooses that were hanging from tree branches outside the polling places. But never until I went to Philadelphia on November 4  had I seen a man with a weapon blocking the entrance to a polling place.

        Two men dressed in black combat boots, black berets and black uniforms blocked the door to the polling place at 1221 Fairmount Street. One was brandishing a large billy-club, intimidating anyone who approached. The two were members of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP). Our campaign called the police and the press. The press filmed the incident. The police ordered the armed man to leave, but did not take away his weapon. As he passed three McCain volunteers, the armed man, Minister King Samir Shabazz, the party’s leader in Philadelphia, yelled: “You are about to be ruled by the black man, Cracker!”

        Having been arrested in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1966 while working as a civil rights lawyer, and having received a civil rights medal from Senator Edward Kennedy in 2003 for my work with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, I appreciated the racist irony.

        In March I received a call from an attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, asking me if I would confirm my experience in an affidavit in support of a suit under the Voting Rights Act to enjoin such activity. He said that if such conduct were not actionable under the Act, then nothing could be. He said my affidavit could involve risk as the NBPP had injured several policeman in an incident in New York. I said I would do it provided that they saw the law suit through to the end. On April 7 I signed the Affidavit.

        In early May the Federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania entered a default judgment versus King Shabazz enjoining him from again appearing at a polling place with a weapon. But on May 15, with victory certain because the other defendants (including the national NBPP) had not answered the proceeding, the new leadership at the Department of Justice dropped the case by filing a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal. The government attorney said to me: “The decision to drop the case against the other defendants came as a surprise to all of us working on it.” He said this failure to enforce the Voting Rights Act, the keystone of American civil rights legislation, would “embolden” other abuses in the future.

        What would have been said had the Bush administration quashed civil rights enforcement against voter intimidation by whites? The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League describe the NBPP as a hate group, and the original Black Panthers have denounced it, but the new administration is protecting it.

        Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy did not die to have thugs dressed like storm troopers and carrying weapons block the doors of polling places, nor to have the Attorney General of the United States protect the thugs instead of the voters.

        What will our next elections be like? ACORN, the principal instrument of voter fraud in 2008, has now been lavishly funded by the “Stimulus Package”. Intimidation at the polls is designed in part to prevent poll watchers from challenging the fraudulent voters registered by Acorn. The new census is to be overseen by the political office in the White House. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants have been registered under the “Motor-Voter” Bill, which mandates voter registration at Motor Vehicle Bureaus. The New Black Panthers will be at the door. Who are today’s “cowards” about race?

Bartle Bull  Harvard Law School. Civil Rights Lawyer in Mississippi 1966. Robert Kennedy's New York State Campaign Manager 1968. Campaigned for Charles Evers for Governor of Mississippi in 1971. Jimmy Carter's New York State campaign manager. Former publisher of The Village Voice. 2003 received a civil rights medal from Senator Edward Kennedy for his work with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Author of novels China Star, Shanghai Station, The Devil's Oasis, and A Cafe on the Nile.


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