ON ITS FACE, it sounded both terrifying and deeply wrong.
A couple of New Black Panthers - militia-attired, beret-wearing, jackbooted jackasses - one of them carrying a nightstick, stood in front of a polling place at 1212 Fairmount Ave. last November intimidating voters and blocking the entrance.
That's how it appeared to some, and that's why the Department of Justice charged them with violations of the Voting Rights Act Section XI, which deals with intimidation.
When the Justice Department recently dropped some charges and took a split decision, right-wing elements went into a frenzy, insisting that the charges were dropped by the "Obama Justice Department."
If you're going to make a political football out of it, let's also note that the original charges were filed by the "Bush Justice Department." And that Justice obtained an injunction "to prohibit the defendant who brandished a weapon [a billy club] outside a Philadelphia polling place from doing so again," according to department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler.
For context, since 1976 Justice has filed Section XI charges a total of three times, Schmaler said.
The rage from the Right either suggested or declared that Obama had ordered the charges dropped to protect his pals, the new Black Panther Party.
On his top-rated Fox News Channel show, Bill O'Reilly wondered why the news media were so quiet about an egregious interference with voters rights.
It's a fair question, also raised by the conservative (and just-closed) Philadelphia Bulletin and Washington Times.
Here's the answer: It's a blip because the two wannabe storm troopers weren't charged with anything in Philadelphia. There were no arrests, the D.A.'s office told me, because of no complaints and no evidence. The nonpartisan Committee of Seventy also received no complaints. The Black Panther presence, Seventy executive director Zack Stalberg told me, "was off-putting, not quite intimidating."
Let's say you play right field and you don't want to take my word for it because I am part of the despised, left-leaning, untrustworthy, Mainstream Media.
[Editor's note: Mainstream? Us? When did that happen?]
On Election Day, Fox News Channel reporter Rick Leventhal - broadcasting live from 1212 Fairmount - said, "We don't have any information that any voters were denied entrance to this polling facility," and he had no evidence of any intimidation.
Bartle Bull disagrees. The onetime civil-rights lawyer, who describes himself as an "old liberal," was in Philadelphia on Election Day to observe polls as New York chairman of Democrats for McCain.
Before police and press arrived, he told me last week, the Black Panthers were much more menacing and did block the polling-place entrance. As he was being led away by police, the man with the baton, identified as King Samir Shabazz, shouted: "You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker."
Bull said that he heard the racist remark. Another Democrat for McCain, Dimitri Sevastopoulo, corroborated the account given by Bull, who sees the Black Panthers' "real game" as intimidating election officials into not closely checking for valid voter ID.
Shabazz is a happy racist, fond of the other "C-word" (cracker). The line about being "ruled by the black man, cracker," is entirely believable. That's clear.
But was it intimidation, or racist stupidity?
I'm not saying that Bull and Sevastopoulo did not see what they say they saw. I am not saying that interference with voters isn't serious. I am saying that the only complaints come from partisans.
Sometimes, intimidation is in the mind of the beholder.
I wonder whom the black-clad daring duo thought they'd intimidate in the heavily Democratic, black and Hispanic 5th Division of the 14th Ward, called by one local pol the "knife and gun club." If they wanted to intimidate people, they should have made their show of farce in the heavily white and Republican-friendly Far Northeast.
I recall another local election during which some voters in the Northeast were intimidated by T-shirted burly guys - usually blue-collar union members - handing out literature and maybe even looking mean.
Big white guys with tattoos shouldn't intimidate anyone from voting. Neither should black guys dressed up like Public Enemy camp followers.
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