I did an interview with New York Daily News Columnist Errol Louis about the New Black Panther Party case today and realized that there's a specific data point that has been lost in all the breathless coverage of this case and whether or not it represents a racist agenda from the Obama administration: The decision not to file a criminal case occurred before Obama was even in office.
From the testimony of Thomas Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division, before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in May:
This means that the case was downgraded to a civil case 11 days before Obama was inaugurated, 26 days before Eric Holder became attorney general, and about nine months before Thomas Perez was confirmed as head of the Civil Rights Division.
Conservative activist and former Voting Section Attorney
J. Christian Adams identified United States Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli as the person who ordered the case dismissed, but he wasn't confirmed until March, three months after the case was downgraded. (see clarification here) Adams also said that Deputy Assistant Attorney General Julie Fernandes declared, “Never bring another lawsuit against a black or other national minority, apparently no matter what they do.” But according to the Raben Group, a progressive PR firm Fernades worked for prior to the Justice Department, she didn't leave her job with them until June 22, 2009, more than six months after the criminal case against the NBPP members was dropped. Even if she did say that -- and none of my sources in the Voting Section ever heard her say anything of the sort -- it wouldn't have had any bearing on the NBPP case, because she wasn't there when it was dismissed.
All of which kind of puts a rather large wrinkle in the right-wing fantasy that the decision to pursue a civil rather than criminal case against The New Black Panther Party members was a racist decree handed down from the racist leadership of the Obama administration. None of the Obama administration's political appointees who have been attacked as having mandated this decision were even working at the Department of Justice at the time the case was downgraded!
Perez testified that the decision to pursue a civil case was a matter of "career people disagreeing with career people." The facts would seem to support that account.
UPDATE: I should make it clear that I'm not the first person to mention this (Media Matters has been pointing this out for a while) Perez revealed the date the case was downgraded in his public testimony to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in May. It's been part of the public record for weeks--which is why I don't understand why so little of the coverage of this story mentions it. I'm simply pointing out that none of the political appointees being blamed for dismissing the case were even at the DoJ when the case was dismissed.
UPDATE: More on the subsequent decision not to further pursue the civil case here.
UPDATE: Even more clarification here.