By Jeff Schreiber
PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Attorney Gen. Michael Mukasey filed suit this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and four of its members in response to an Election Day incident at a polling location in Philadelphia, PA, citing intimidation of voters, intimidation of poll workers, and attempted intimidation of poll workers.
On November 4, 2008, defendants and New Black Panther Party members Jerry Jackson and Samir Shabazz, dressed in military-style uniforms replete with black berets, combat-style boots, bloused battle dress pants, rank and organization insignia, and black jackets, blocked access to a Philadelphia polling place. Shabazz, according to the nine page complaint, “brandished a deadly weapon” appearing on Fox News video (see below) to be a nightstick or baton, and the pair hurled racist comments and racial slurs at voters and prospective voters both black and white. From the complaint:
Throughout the course of this deployment at the polling location, and while the polls were open for voting, Defendant Samir Shabazz pointed the weapon at individuals, menacingly tapped it [in] his other hand, or menacingly tapped it elsewhere. This activity occurred approximately eight to fifteen feet from the entrance to the polling location. Defendant Samir Shabazz was accompanied by Defendant Jerry Jackson during this activity, and the two men stood side by side, in apparent formation, throughout most of this deployment.
This episode, as it were, was only part of a larger plan for Election Day disruption undertaken by the Black Panther Party. According to the complaint, not only did the group manage, direct and endorse the behavior in Philadelphia, but its leadership also urged similar behavior nationwide as well. Prior to the election, the complaint states, the group “made statements and posted notice that over 300 members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would be deployed at polling locations during voting on November 4, 2008, throughout the United States.”
The New Black Panther Party and other defendants, the Attorney General alleges, have run afoul of Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provides that: “No person . . . shall intimidate, threaten, or coerce . . . any person for voting or attempting to vote.” The defendants, Mukasey argues, have violated the Act “by deployment of armed and uniformed personnel at the entrance to the polling location,” and the defendants’ “loud and open use” of racially derogatory comments “enhanced the intimidating and threatening presence at the polling location.”
Citing the avowed endorsement and support of racially-motivated violence by the New Black Panther Party and by Samir Shabazz, along with several statements attributed to Shabazz in various publications endorsing and supporting “violence against non-black individuals and violence directed toward non-blacks and Jews” as well as the group’s use and development of auxiliary groups such as the “Panther Youth,” Mukasey argues that the New Black Panther Party will continue such actions save for intervening action from the court. As a result, he is seeking not only a declaration that the defendants violated the Voting Rights Act, but also a court order permanently enjoining the defendants from conducting similar operations at polling places during elections in the future.