As voters were casting the ballots that elected America's first black president in November 2008, a troubling incident occurred outside a polling place in North Philadelphia, the Justice Department later contended.
There, two members of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense hurled racial threats and insults at black and white voters, federal prosecutors in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division alleged in a complaint accusing the group and three members of violating the federal Voting Rights Act.
The prosecutors later won a default judgment against Minister King Samir Shabazz, whom they identified as leader of the Philadelphia chapter, and sought dismissal of charges against the organization and two other members.
Now, one of the prosecutors, J. Christian Adams, has resigned from the Justice Department amid a widening flap over the case. He said he was scheduled to testify Tuesday before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in an investigation over dismissal of the charges.
Adams said Friday that he disagreed with the decision to dismiss charges. Though his name is on the court document seeking the dismissal, Adams said he believes the case should have been pursued.
"I was just following instructions to dismiss the case," Adams said in an interview.
Adams said there has been long-standing opposition in the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department toward "race-neutral enforcement" of the voting-rights law during the Obama administration as well as when President George W. Bush was in office.
"I believe in a robust protection of voters," said Adams, who has been busy doing interviews on Fox News and radio talk shows since leaving the Justice Department in early June.
According to court papers, Shabazz, brandishing a nightstick, and a second member stood at the entrance to the polling place in the 1200 block of Fairmount Avenue. The two "made menacing and intimidating gestures, statements, and movements," the complaint said.
While the prosecutors dismissed charges against the organization, its leader and the third member, they won an order barring Shabazz from displaying a weapon within 100 feet of any open polling location in Philadelphia on any Election Day through 2012.
Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler told the Associated Press that the charges against the New Black Panthers were dropped because they were not supported by the facts or by the law.
On its website, the New Black Panther Party says that "the white man has kept us deaf, dumb, and blind," and that it seeks "the overdue debt of reparations." A group spokesperson could not be reached for comment.