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Friday, July 16, 2010

New Black Panther Party Gains Momentum, S.C. Blacks Afraid

As the New Black Panthers Party prepares to march/protest tomorrow in Newberry, South Carolina, the local media is spinning lies claiming Black residents are afraid. You know now that I think about it maybe those claims are NOT lies. A Black man named Anthony Hill was dragged to death by some White citizens and the local law enforcement basically ignored this crime. Hill's death sent a message to shut Blacks up in that region and in North Carolina. So I don't doubt the Black residents in Newberry, SC are afraid. All the more reason for Malik Zulu Shabazz and the New Black Panther Party to show up for tomorrow's march/ protest. Let's pray for their Safety.

Newberry, S.C. Uneasy As New Black Panthers Party Saturday Rally Nears

Dana Brooks understands why the New Black Panther Party is organizing a rally and march Saturday through her hometown.

But she has no plans to be a part of it

“It feels like they’re stirring up more problems than they’re solving,” said Brooks, 18, and a recent graduate of Mid-Carolina High School. “I know they’re trying to call attention to a very serious situation. But I don’t feel like I should be in a situation where there could be problems.”

Fear and uncertainty are thick in Newberry as local residents prepare for Saturday’s rally. No one knows how many people to expect or what the mood will be. Downtown business owners were reluctant to speak this week about the planned rally but most said their businesses already will be closed by the time the Panthers assemble at the courthouse around 5 p.m.

The event is in response to the June 2 killing of Anthony Hill.

Hill, a black man, was shot to death and his corpse was dragged nearly 11 miles along country roads behind a truck. Gregory Collins, 19, who is white, is in jail without bail on murder charges in the case.

Authorities are investigating the killing as they decide whether to charge Collins with a hate crime. U.S. Attorney William Nettles said he has not decided whether the killing was a hate crime and the investigation would dictate when he made that decision.

Within a week of the crime, the New Black Panther Party had seized on the case and began holding meetings in town to demand the killing be labeled a hate crime. Last week, a few people who said they were members of the party accompanied Hill’s widow to a town hall meeting during which Nettles and other state and local law enforcement discussed the case.

Many people in Newberry, however, have said they are willing to let local law enforcement continue their investigation. And they do not welcome the Panthers to town.

Willie Davis, 60, said the Panthers know U.S. history with racism and hate crimes. But it’s too early to call Hill’s murder a hate crime, he said.

“People have to be careful about jumping to conclusions,” said Davis, who will not attend the rally or march.

The New Black Panthers Party is based in Washington, D.C., and are led by Malik Zulu Shabazz, an attorney. The group is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit that monitors hate groups and hate crimes in the United States. It is not affiliated with the Black Panther Party that made its name as a militant group in the 1960s, said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.

Potok said his organization did not have any reports of New Black Panther affiliates in South Carolina.

However, Tiffany Gibson, a Newberry resident, said she is helping organize the rally on behalf of the Newberry Black Unity Coalition and that the group is an affiliate of the New Black Panther Party.

Gibson, a graphic designer, said racism abounds in Newberry and the dragging death case brought it to a head. She formed the coalition as a way to take action.

“If we’re going to complain and no one else is going to take action, we must do it ourselves,” she said.

The Panthers have been in the national news this month after video surfaced of two members standing outside a Philadelphia polling station in 2008. The video was related to a controversy within the U.S. Department of Justice over whether or not to prosecute the men for voter intimidation.

“Anytime you have people come in from outside with a message of hate, that always causes fear,” said Maj. Todd Johnson of the Newberry County Sheriff’s Department.

State, local and federal law enforcement officials will be in full force, Johnson said. And authorities plan to have Emergency Medical Services on standby because the rally and march are scheduled to last five hours in the blazing heat, he said.

“We’re going to make sure they have a First Amendment right to free speech,” Johnson said. “But we’re also going to make sure their First Amendment right doesn’t infringe on anybody else.”

The Black Panthers event will begin at Wise Park in the heart of an in-town black neighborhood. The group then plans to march 1.5 miles to the county courthouse.

Jack Edwards, who lives across the street from the park, said he was nervous when the Panthers held a rally there in June. And he worried about the potential for violence Saturday, from the Panthers or someone who might oppose them.

“Those are some thick bushes over there,” he said. “You never know where snipers might be.”

He would rather the Panthers not come, but if they do, he hopes police will be out in full force Saturday to keep the peace.

“We haven’t had no trouble that we need somebody else to speak for us,” he said.

In downtown Newberry, where antiques shops and cafes line Main Street, there was a nervous undercurrent among business owners. Many of them refused to comment on the event.

“I hope we don’t have to expect too much,” said Shane Wicker, an employee at the As Time Goes By antique store. “I hope nothing will be too wild.”

Theresa Wilson, 24, who works at the C.T. Summer hardware store, said she had heard all sorts of rumors about who would be coming to town as part of the rally. But she wished the Black Panthers would leave Newberry alone.

“I want Anthony Hill’s family to have peace of mind, and they’ll never have peace if they keep stirring this stuff up,” she said.

The New Black Panther Party Is The New ACORN

As Voter-Intimidation exercises go, it wasn’t much. In 2008, a lone white voter reported he had encountered two black men dressed all in black, one carrying a nightstick, at his Philadelphia polling place in a predominantly black neighborhood.

The armed man was escorted away by police, and no one reported the incident to the local district attorney. But the incident was caught on camera, making it great fodder for cable news because political campaigns were actively scouting for voter-intimidation cases they could use against opponents. Still, it seemed like the sort of incident that happens at dozens of polling places every Election Day, then quietly recedes.

Twenty-one months later, though, right-wing Bloggers can't get enough of the story, and it's starting to make it into the mainstream press. Even Sarah Palin has joined the act, tweeting: "Watch FOX's Megyn Kelly on Black Panther voter intimidation case; she knows the case; she's speaking truth; her revelations leave Left steaming."

So how did the incident become a replay of the ACORN scandal? There's some resemblance between the two: an organization with unacceptable practices and a vague connection to the Obama administration (through voter registration drives in the ACORN case and Justice Department litigation in the Panther case) becomes a tool for critics of the White House to attack it as corrupt and illegitimate.

But as in the ACORN case, the scandal is minimal (much of the ACORN hit has been discredited)—and the allegations against Obama flimsy.

Let's start with the cast of characters. The two reportedly imposing men at the Philadelphia polling station were members of a fringe group that calls itself the New Black Panther Party—much to the chagrin of the "old" Black Panther Party, which strenuously rejects the NBPP. Its leaders go by peculiar pseudo-African names (like chairman Malik Zulu Shabazz), and it is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League.

Its ideology tends to skew toward the black supremacist and anti-Semitic.

The group typically gets attention every few years when it successfully manages to bait the national media with some nutty stand. In 2006, for example, the New Black Panther Party announced it was going to Durham, N.C., to investigate the Duke lacrosse case.

Fox News, in particular, loves it: after the Duke charges were dropped in 2007, Bill O'Reilly had Shabazz on the program, where he called syndicated conservative columnist Michelle Malkin a "whore."

Several months after the 2008 Election Day incident (and 13 days before President Obama was sworn in) the Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against the NBPP under the Voting Rights Act, alleging voter intimidation. In May 2009, Justice—now led by Attorney General Eric Holder, Obama's appointee—successfully obtained an injunction against King Samir Shabazz, the man who carried the nightstick, then dropped the suit, Fox News reported.

A spokeswoman at Justice says a career attorney made the call, which was then affirmed by an appointee, because "the facts and the law did not support pursuing claims against the other defendants in the case. A federal judge determined that the relief requested by the Department was appropriate."

That's where things get messy.

Starting last summer, some conservative media outlets—notably The Washington Times—began digging into the case, suggesting that because a top Obama appointee had signed off on the decision to drop charges, a move allegedly opposed by career lawyers, it provided proof that Holder's Justice Department was a bastion of political favoritism (and, by implication, racism, given that both Holder and Obama are black).

Although that story didn't go mainstream, it did cause the Commission on Civil Rights, an independent body, to take up the case. As Dave Weigel reported, there was more to that decision than met the eye: after eight years of George W. Bush appointments, the commission tilted definitively right. In addition, the star witness in the case against the NBPP, Bartle Bull, wasn't exactly impartial.

The white former Robert F. Kennedy aide, who called the incident "the most blatant form of voter intimidation I have encountered in my political campaigns in many states, even going back to the work I did in Mississippi in the 1960s," had been an outspoken critic of Obama for some time.

The commission has met several times to examine the case, but things really blew open on July 6, when Bush Justice official J. Christian Adams, who is white, suggested that Justice's voting division avoided bringing cases where defendants were black and plaintiffs were white.

Adams's testimony is questionable; there are doubts about whether he was actually present for the incidents he described, and he's refused to offer details on key questions. Critics see other credibility problems for Adams: he was, for instance, hired when Bush's Justice Department was systematically weakening the civil-rights division by forcing out career lawyers and replacing them with attorneys who had strong conservative credentials but little in the way of civil-rights experience.

This week's resolution by the NAACP blasting "racism" in the Tea Party has further fanned the flame. At its 101st annual convention in St. Louis, the nation's oldest civil-rights organization condemned the party's "continued tolerance for bigotry." Tea Party leaders heatedly rejected the criticism, and Palin dismissed it as "a diversionary tactic." To some commentators on the right, the NAACP action is rank hypocrisy, given that the group hasn't condemned the racism they see festering over at Justice.

With some help from Fox News's Kelly, the New Black Panthers story is now gaining steam. While there's little doubt that the NBPP is a fringe group, critics of the decision to drop the suit have a tough case to make. The problem is that although it may look like voter intimidation, there aren't actually any voters who filed an official complaint claiming to have been intimidated.

As Adam Serwer writes, a polling station in a predominantly black neighborhood isn't the best place to go if you're trying to scare white voters off: "I imagine that the New Black Panthers thought they were protecting black voters from some phantom white-supremacist conspiracy (their public statements say as much)." And Weigel, who's followed the case, has suggested there's not much to it either—plus, "there's no evidence the NBPP's clownish Philadelphia stunt suppressed any votes, or that they'll try such a stunt again."

Of course, even if the case against the NBPP is thin as onion paper, it's still a problem if the Justice Department is systematically screening its cases by race. So is there evidence of that beyond Adams's testimony? The department denies the charge. Spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler says in part: "The Department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved."

Cord Jefferson of the The Root, a black-issues Web site, says the case is spurious, but that Justice must explain itself further. But Abigail Thernstrom, a white conservative member of the Commission on Civil Rights, complains that it's all light and no heat:

Get a grip, folks. The New Black Panther Party is a lunatic fringe group that is clearly into racial theater of minor importance ... This case is a one-off. There are plenty of grounds on which to sharply criticize the attorney general—his handling of terrorism questions, just for starters—but this particular overblown attack threatens to undermine the credibility of his conservative critics.

Thernstrom may be right, but she misses the point. Like the ACORN case, it's not about a real investigation; it's about staging an effective piece of political theater that hurts the Obama administration.

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Sources: Fox News, Newsweek, The State, Youtube, Google Maps

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