The New Black Panthers Case Divides Justice Department

The Justice Department can't agree on whose rights to defend. 

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On Election Day 2008, Maruse Heath, the leader of Philadelphia's New Black Panther Party, stood in front of a neighborhood polling place, dressed in a paramilitary uniform. Within hours, an amateur video showing Heath, slapping a black nightstick and exchanging words with the videographer, had aired on TV and ricocheted across the nation. Among those who saw the footage was J. Christian Adams, who was in his office in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. Two months after Election Day, Adams and his supervisors in the George W. Bush administration filed a voter-intimidation lawsuit against Heath and his colleagues, even though no voters had complained. The Obama administration months later dismissed most of the case, even though the Panthers had not contested the charges.

This dismissal has enraged some in the Justice Department who believe that Heath and the New Black Panther Party should have been charged with civil rights violations. Eric Holder Jr., the nation's first black attorney general, has been catching heat because of it. Perhaps Holder didn't pursue charges because we might have asked why charges weren't pursued against those brandishing guns at the debates over health care reform? Heath was dressed in paramilitary garb with a nightstick, not brandishing a gun. If someone has the right to vote without fear of intimidation, shouldn't we also have the right to assemble or protest without fear of intimidation as well? Just a thought.

Read more at The Washington Post.

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