Racism at Justice Department

Duck, hide, make excuses, lie about it, but whatever you do, you folks in the Obama administration have a major outrage on your hands, a racist assault on justice by the Justice Department.

Duck, hide, make excuses, lie about it, but whatever you do, you folks in the Obama administration have a major outrage on your hands, a racist assault on justice by the Justice Department.

It's more specifically about a shrug of the shoulders over voter intimidation that you cannot pretend did not happen. This, after all, is the age of phone cameras and the Internet, and an easily available online video shows two Black Panthers dressed like soldiers in front of a Philadelphia polling place on Nov. 4, 2008, one holding a billy club, both looking ready to beat you to a pulp if you cross them. This is Halloween gone real.

Of course, the video does not show everything pertinent to what occurred before, during and after the incident. We have to rely on witnesses to learn about racial insults and standing in front of those headed inside. We have to go to another video of another occasion to hear the club-grasping Panther screech maniacally about the desirability of killing white babies.

We also have to learn by other means that the Panthers failed to turn up at a court proceeding, making them legally guilty by default. We are not watching when the Justice Department nevertheless dismisses charges while asking one ballot bully to please avoid taking a deadly weapon to any polling place for a few years.

It would be great if we had a video of civil rights lawyers in the department telling each other they did not sign on to prosecute blacks for trying to deprive whites of their rights. Unfortunately, we did not get to watch that or how the department illegally told one objecting, highly respected Justice official, Christopher Coates, that he had better not take his complaints to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and was now being transferred from Washington to South Carolina.


But we did learn about all of this in part because a courageous Coates, who was formerly the boss of those investigating violations of voting rights, did make the hike back to D.C. and did testify before the commission, telling the world about Justice officials resistant to racially neutral judgments even if it means white voters will have "race-haters" in their face.

A department PR employee answered that his allegations were "thin on facts and evidence." Huh? Coates is the second to step forward with inside information, there are additional sworn affidavits and the department is refusing the release of sought documents, purposely keeping the evidence as thin as it can.

A friend of mine, who stands 6-5 and happens to be a former judo champ, says he would not have backed up an inch from those two Panthers, and I believe him. Then I think of my mother in her late 70s, loving to walk from her home to a nearby store to purchase a few, easily carried groceries, but giving up this simple pleasure because young, loitering toughs found it a cute game to stare at her threateningly as she approached the entrance.

Toughs, of course, come in all races, and in dealing with them, race should not matter. It absolutely should not have mattered in cracking down on those forcing citizens to run a threat gauntlet to partake in one of the most vital and precious rituals of our democratic life.

No one is pretending this incident comes close to the massive denials of rights to blacks that existed in some of the country prior to the 1960's Voting Rights Act, but failing to take this incident seriously allows for more of the same while undercutting the principle that ultimately rescued millions.

Taking it seriously could have meant nothing more than seeking a ruling that those involved would go to prison if they did anything like that again. Because even this moderate stance was sidestepped, we need strong internal action in the department by Attorney General Eric Holder and his firing by President Obama along with an apology to the nation if he fails to act.

Ambrose is formerly the Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers. E-mail him at .

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