Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eric Holder: Black Panther case focus demeans 'my people'

by Josh Gerstein

Attorney General Eric Holder finally got fed up Tuesday with claims that the Justice Department went easy in a voting rights case against members of the New Black Panther Party because they are African American.

Holder's frustration over the criticism became evident during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing as Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) accused the Justice Department of failing to cooperate with a Civil Rights Commission investigation into the handling of the 2008 incident in which Black Panthers in intimidating outfits and wielding a club stood outside a polling place in Philadelphia.

The Attorney General seemed to take personal offense at a comment Culberson read in which former Democratic activist Bartle Bull called the incident the most serious act of voter intimidation he had witnessed in his career.

"Think about that," Holder said. "When you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, and to compare what people were subjected to there to what happened in Philadelphia—which was inappropriate, certainly that…to describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all, for my people," said Holder, who is black.

Holder noted that his late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, helped integrate the University of Alabama.

"To compare that kind of courage, that kind of action, and to say that the Black Panther incident wrong thought it might be somehow is greater in magnitude or is of greater concern to us, historically, I think just flies in the face of history and the facts.," Holder said with evident exasperation.

In a series of questions and comments earlier in the hearing, Culberson insisted that race had infected the decision-making process. "There’s clearly evidence, overwhelming evidence, that your Department of Justice refuses to protect the rights of anybody other than African Americans to vote," the Texas Republican said. "There's a pattern of a double standard here."

“I would disagree very vehemently with the notion that there’s overwhelming evidence that that is in fact true,” Holder replied. “This Department of Justice does not enforce the law in a race-conscious way.”

Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Democrat from Philadelphia, said the Black Panthers "should not have been there." But he said the GOP was making too much out of a fleeting incident involving a couple of people.

"The most unethical thing a person can do is make allegations based on absolutely nothing," Fattah said. "The only issue of race is singling out this particular decision...That this rises to national significance is bogus on its face."