Two members of the New Black Panther Party standing outside a polling place at 12th and Fairmount kicked off a national stir yesterday after a Republican poll watcher called police alleging they were intimidating white voters.
The story quickly became the top video at FoxNews, where reporter Rick Leventhal, "faced off," against one of the men. Viewers also flocked to YouTube to watch video from the scene.
But police and an investigator from the district attorney's office went to inquire and found no evidence of intimidation, according to spokespeople for both offices.
Lovida H. Coleman Jr., a Republican attorney working with the McCain campaign, said she uncovered no evidence of voters being denied their right to vote, although she thought the Panthers should not have been allowed access to voters.
"I think it had the appearance of being a serious issue," Coleman said, "but I have not found evidence of any specific harm to anyone."
Peter Berson, the supervisor at the D.A.'s election complaint unit, said he had received calls from reporters from as far away as Chicago about the unsubstantiated report of intimidation.
The initial allegation came from a University student, who had been serving as a poll watcher. The student, who was not identified in any of the videos, made a video recording of the two men wearing black panther garb - black jackets, combat boots and berets. One of them was carrying a nightstick and claimed to be security.
The pollwatcher, who was later interviewed by Fox, said he felt intimidated, and called police.
In another video posted on a site called electionjournal.org, police can been seen asking a man with what looked like a nightstick to leave.
But the other panther, Jerry Jackson, turned out to be a legitimate member of the 14th ward's Democratic committee, and was allowed to remain at the polling place throughout the day.
Jackson, who at times appeared rambling and incoherent, said he was there to protect voters, not intimidate them.
"I'm making sure that media agitation does not disturb voters," said Jackson.
Two investigators from the District Attorney's office also paid a visit to the site Tuesday afternoon, talking briefly with election officials as Jackson stood to the side. The two left after a few minutes without talking to Jackson.
The polling place is located in the heart of the Philadelphia Housing Authority's Richard Allen Homes, and inside the door of a rehabilitation center that provides housing and services for the elderly, special needs residents, families, and homeless persons on a non-profit basis.
The district has 1,535 registered voters, of which only 84 are Republicans.
In a statement on the Panther's website, the party said it does not endorse any candidate and does not engage in voter intimidation.
"To be clear, the New Black Panther Party does not now nor ever has, engaged in any form of voter intimidation," the statement said.
"We recognize the long legacy of our people who were martyred and paid for our right to vote in their blood."
The police made at least one more visit to the polling place on Fairmount Tuesday, this time to ask FoxNews to leave for getting too close to the polling place. The station returned later saying they had talked to police who acknowledged they could remain as long as they did not stray within 10 feet of the entryway.
Overall, the D.A.'s office had received 45 calls about a variety of issues by mid-afternoon, compared to 72 at the same time in 2004, according to spokeswoman Cathy Abookire.
"It's been remarkably quiet," she said.
Contact John Sullivan at 215-854-2473 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff writers Tom Avril, Mark Fazlollah and Dwight Ott contributed to this article.