Justice isn't 'gotcha': Case of two Black Panthers has been overblown

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To hear conservatives complain about the Obama Justice Department these days, you'd think Attorney General Eric Holder had declared war on the civil rights of white Americans.

Recently, J. Christian Adams, a former lawyer for the Bush Justice Department, accused the civil rights division under Mr. Obama and Mr. Holder of scaling down a voter intimidation case in Philadelphia because the accused were black and potential victims white.

Two members of the New Black Panther Party stood outside a North Philly polling place on Election Day 2008 in paramilitary garb. One of the two brandished a billy club looking vaguely menacing, but mostly silly.

The men stood outside the predominantly black polling center for a short time before cops sent them on their way. One of the men is alleged to have said something insulting about white people. Neither was arrested.

On the basis of a silly nonevent by two nobodies, the right wing has invented an outrageous conspiracy theory about the Justice Department's alleged disregard for the voting rights of white people.

Just before the Bush administration left office, the civil rights division filed charges against the two men and the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation.

Later, the then acting head of the civil rights division dropped the charges against the party and one of the men. Conservatives went bananas.

The Civil Rights Commission, still full of Bush administration appointees, held hearings. That's where Mr. Adams told his tale of woe that has attracted much commentary and gnashing of teeth.

Civil rights enforcement under Mr. Bush was spotty, a record that apologists for that administration are embarrassed by. Now they're sensitive to voter intimidation and racial bias. Their outrage is driven more by partisan hackery than any evidence of a sustained effort to deny white people their voting rights.

For the record: All cases, even bizarre ones, should be investigated and charges brought if necessary. But there's little point in exaggerating the importance of a case when no actual harm is done. Justice is not a game of "racial gotcha."


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