07/14/10 — Voter intimidation: Attorney general does a disservice to Dr. King's vision

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Voter intimidation: Attorney general does a disservice to Dr. King's vision

One would have hoped that the days when a group or an individual could make an approaching voter feel uncomfortable about entering a polling place were over.

After all, part of the reason laws exist today against this sort of manipulation of the voting process is that it was such a part of the discrimination of the early 1960s that many fair-minded people wanted to make sure it never happened again.

And, one would think, if there were such an instance in the 2008 election -- and there was video to back up the accusation, as well as comments from people who were, in fact, made uncomfortable as they tried to cast their ballots -- that the attorney general of the United States would be all over the case, pushing to be sure that justice was done.

Well, guess again.

Attorney General Eric Holder continues to drag his feet in the case against the New Black Panther Party, the group that was accused of intimidating voters at Philadelphia voting sites during the most recent presidential election.

Those who accuse the Panthers say their presence was threatening -- they were wearing military uniforms -- and that one of them carried a nightstick. The original complaint, which was civil, included charges that the men "on patrol" at the polling places made racial slurs and threats and interfered in any attempt by anyone to assist voters.

No one showed up and the case was won.

But after that, many expected there to be a call for fairness from the self-proclaimed "color blind" White House -- a refusal to put up with anyone who uses race-baiting in any form to influence or to intimidate another. Forget about the implications such actions would have on the fairness of any election. And forget about the lessons learned during the Civil Rights Movement about fighting for everyone's rights, no matter what their race might be. Forget about all men being created equal.

Holder decided to dismiss the charges against the Panthers and to hold only one of them accountable -- the man with the nightstick -- and even then, to offer only a slap-on-the-hand sentence.

So what does that say about the Justice Department and its understanding of its role?

It reads a lot like a partisan political move designed to influence an election, not to make sure it is conducted fairly.

Those who care about the electoral process and the rights of the people to decide who will represent them should be very concerned about the implications of this move.

It says loud and clear that anything goes at a polling place -- especially if you are on the right side.

Holder is a disgrace and has no business holding the office he does. His justice is far from blind, and he is not the sort of courageous champion for the people that is necessary in his job.

And for those who say this is payback for the years when discrimination was the rule of law in this country, we say they should be ashamed to even make the argument.

Blacks and whites fought in the Civil Rights effort -- and many generations of Americans on both sides of the aisle have worked to create a world where the color of a man's skin -- or any other subjective judgment -- did not matter when it came to the application of the law.

There is no excuse for tolerating discrimination now from anyone -- even those who are not traditionally called "racists."

We would not tolerate a white group standing at a polling place menacing black voters, and we should not tolerate the reverse, either.

That is the vision of America Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called for all those years ago -- a country of citizens of all races united in their quest to respect each other and to fight for rights for all men and women without prejudice or preconditions.

That is true equality.

Published in Editorials on July 14, 2010 11:15 AM