In 2006, three anti-immigrant advocates, all part of the Minutemen organization, began approaching Latino voters (pdf) outside a voting place in Pima, Arizona. One of the men was carrying a weapon. They began aggressively questioning voters, filming the exchanges. It was pretty obvious the activists were trying to intimidate voters out of exercising their rights.
Civil Rights organizations contacted the United States Department of Justice. After all, the United States is charged with safeguarding voting rights, aren't they? Well no. Not always. The Civil Rights Division focuses on widespread efforts to prevent voters from exercising their franchise. When a small number of people are involved, voters are encouraged to contact local law enforcement. When local remedies are available, the feds don't get involved. Should it be that way? I don't think so. But it is.
Mississippi law expressly tells law enforcement to stay away from the homes of registered voters. In 2005, Republicans were pushing charges of voter fraud. It seemed obvious this was to keep people from voting. Armed state investigators paid personal visits to elderly minority voters, questioning them pretty roughly about why they had registered. It's easy to see why these older folks might be hesitant to file complaints against officers of the same agencies that would investigate the complaints. Civil Rights groups complained to the Department of Justice. When local law enforcement officers are involved in voter intimidation against state law, the feds have to get involved, right? Well no. Not always. When the officers are not some official effort, but are acting on their own, voters are encouraged to file complaints against the renegade officers. When local remedies are available, the feds don't get involved. Should it be that way? I don't think so. But it is.
On November 4th, 2008, three men; King Samir Shabazz, Jerry Jackson, and Malik Zulu Shabazz, showed up at a polling place in Philadelphia. They were videotaped yelling racial slurs at voters. One carried a nightstick. This time the Justice Department got involved, at least for a while. A civil injunction was applied for against the organization. When the accused men, the ones caught on tape, did not show up for the hearing, a preliminary injunction was granted against the Party itself.
The New Black Panther Party cried foul. With poll watchers outside more than 300 voting places, only those three carried things to an inappropriate point. The Justice Department dropped the injunction, but insisted on written agreement from the Party and specifically from the nightstick fellow that such incidents would not be repeated. Any criminal charges could be pursued with local authorities. Should it be that way? I don't think so. Fox News and a host of conservative activists are white hot furious. Some insist the case shows Obama and his administration hate white people.
No public protest or journalistic attention seems to be merited concerning the Arizona or Mississippi cases. Different standards apply in those cases.
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