Voting Rights Official Calls Black Panther Dismissal a ‘Travesty on Justice’
Straight from Fox News: “The Justice Department is ignoring civil rights cases that involve white victims and wrongly abandoned a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party last year, a top department official testified Friday. He called the department’s conduct a “travesty on justice.”
Christopher Coates, former voting chief for the department’s Civil Rights Division, spoke under oath Friday morning before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, in a long-awaited appearance that had been stonewalled by the Justice Department for nearly a year.
Coates went in depth about a controversial decision to dismiss charges against New Black Panther members after they were videotaped outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 dressed in military-style uniforms and allegedly hurling racial slurs while one brandished a night stick.
The case has drifted in and out of the limelight over the past year as the commission has struggled to investigate it. Ex-Justice official J. Christian Adams fueled the controversy when he testified in July and accused his former employer of showing “hostility” toward cases that involve white victims and black defendants.
Nearly three months later, Coates backed up Adams’ claims. In lengthy and detailed testimony, he said the department cultivates a “hostile atmosphere” against “race-neutral enforcement” of the Voting Rights Act.
He said civil rights attorneys stick to cases that involve minority victims and that the Black Panther case was dismissed following “pressure” by the NAACP and “anger” at the case within the Justice Department itself.
“That anger was the result of their deep-seated opposition to the equal enforcement of the Voting Rights Act against racial minorities and for the protection of white voters who have been discriminated against,” he said.
Coates said that a 2005 case against a black official in Mississippi over voter intimidation claims had stirred a backlash in the department and from civil rights groups — and that the Black Panther case was no different.
The Bush Justice Department first brought the case against three members of the group, accusing them in a civil complaint of violating the Voting Rights Act. The Obama administration initially pursued the case and at one point won a default judgment, but the administration last year moved to dismiss the charges after getting one of the New Black Panther members to agree to not carry a “deadly weapon” near a polling place until 2012.
Coates dismissed as weak the department’s rationale for abandoning the case, saying the department let one of the Black Panther members off the hook because a local police officer had determined he was a Democratic Party poll watcher. Coates called it “extraordinarily strange” for the department to rely on this and urged the commission to consider the legal backlash had the Panthers been members of the Ku Klux Klan instead.
“To understand the rationale of these articulated reasons for gutting this case … one only has to state the facts in the racial reverse,” he said.
Coates has since been transferred to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Carolina. Coates said Friday that the Justice Department told him not to testify before the commission after he was first subpoenaed in December 2009 — in testifying Friday, Coates claimed protection from retaliation under “whistleblower” laws.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., also wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder warning the department not to punish Coates in any way for his testimony.
The Justice Department has denied the allegations over its handling of the Black Panther case. The department said in July that the case was dismissed “based on the merits, not the race, gender or ethnicity of any party involved.”"