DOJ drops case against guilty Panthers
Black Panthers threaten voters at polling place.
“Outrageous affront to American democracy . . . ” says civil rights activist.
DOJ drops case after accused were convicted.
Justice Department political appointees overruled career lawyers and ended a civil complaint accusing three members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense of wielding a nightstick and intimidating voters at a Philadelphia polling place last Election Day, according to documents and interviews.
The incident – which gained national attention when it was captured on videotape and distributed on YouTube – had prompted the government to sue the men, saying they violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act by scaring would-be voters with the weapon, racial slurs and military-style uniforms.
Career lawyers pursued the case for months, including obtaining an affidavit from a prominent 1960s civil rights activist who witnessed the confrontation and described it as “the most blatant form of voter intimidation” that he had seen, even during the voting rights crisis in Mississippi a half-century ago.”
To support its evidence, the government had secured an affidavit from Bartle Bull, a longtime civil rights activist and former aide to Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. Mr. Bull said in a sworn statement dated April 7 that he was serving in November as a credentialed poll watcher in Philadelphia when he saw the three uniformed Panthers confront and intimidate voters with a nightstick.
Inexplicably, the government did not enter the affidavit in the court case, according to the files.
“In my opinion, the men created an intimidating presence at the entrance to a poll,” he declared. “In all my experience in politics, in civil rights litigation and in my efforts in the 1960s to secure the right to vote in Mississippi … I have never encountered or heard of another instance in the United States where armed and uniformed men blocked the entrance to a polling location.”
Mr. Bull said the “clear purpose” of what the Panthers were doing was to “intimidate voters with whom they did not agree.”
He also said he overheard one of the men tell a white poll watcher: “You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker.”
He called their conduct an “outrageous affront to American democracy and the rights of voters to participate in an election without fear.” He said it was a “racially motivated effort to limit both poll watchers aiding voters, as well as voters with whom the men did not agree.”