Partial answer: It doesn’t have anything to do with race.
Currently, right-wingers are riled up about how the Obama White House has filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. (Yes, Attorney General Eric Holder finally filed one.) Their new plan of attack is to question why Eric Holder and President Obama are proceeding with a lawsuit that supposedly sides with “illegal aliens” — and not pressing criminal charges against the New Black Panthers for alleged voter intimidation during the 2008 elections
During the 2008 presidential elections, two members of the New Black Panther Party were allegedly involved in intimidation of voters outside a polling location in Philadelphia. (The New Black Panther Party is designated as a hate group by the Southern Law Poverty Center and is not to be mistaken as a successor of the original Black Panther Party.)
The right-wing logic is simple: laws adopted after Jim Crow and designed to stop voter intimidation of blacks should apply to everyone. One black guy with a baton trying to “protect” a polling place while hanging out with another black guy? That intimidates some white voters. In fact, the argument goes, such an act can be likened to centuries of disenfranchisement, in which literacy tests and the grandfather clause prevented African-Americans from voting. But thanks to the biases of our first black President and first black Attorney General, white voters are being discriminated and disenfranchised in broad daylight.
At this point, one also has to wonder why President Obama and the DOJ don’t prosecute the illegal voter caging and purging of African-Americans and Latinos from election rolls that still occurs to this day. But that’s another conversation.
Facts surrounding the New Black Panther Party case have been seriously distorted, which isn’t surprising, given how much of them are coming from sources like Faux News.
First of all, it was the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush that decided not to pursue criminal charges in the case — not President Obama. In a testimony before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, former Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said that the Justice Department under former President Bush had determined that the facts did not constitute a prosecutable violation of the criminal statutes, though the department did file a civil action. Simply put? The DOJ investigated the matter and decided that one lone incident of a guy standing with a baton at a polling place was not enough to prosecute the New Black Panther Party on criminal charges.
Additionally, the DOJ could not pursue criminal charges because no citizen reported being intimidated as the result of this incident. The complaints actually came from white Republican poll watchers, who were probably not even registered to vote in a district that is overwhelmingly black. The lesson of the day? Just because some white Republicans are scared of a black man with a baton doesn’t mean everyone else is also intimidated.