Michael Smerconish: Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson, the two New Black Panthers at the Philadelphia polling place, were clowns - but dangerous ones

Poll-watching, New Black Panther-style.
Poll-watching, New Black Panther-style.
Posted: July 15, 2010

I'M THINKING that the actions of the New Black Panthers on Election Day in 2008 were more about TV than turnout.

Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson posted up outside the old Richard Allen Homes at 12th Street and Fairmount Avenue, which is in the 14th Ward's 4th voting division.

In November 2008, there were 1,535 voters registered there. Only 84 of them were Republicans. Not exactly a location where an African-American running for president would seem to need much assistance.

In 2000, George W. Bush got 8 votes to Al Gore's 382. In 2004, John Kerry bested George W. Bush 501 to 24. Maybe it was that explosive growth from 8 votes to 24 that caused these knuckleheads to show up in 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama ended up winning the district 596 to 13, according to data provided by the Committee of Seventy.

That data - taken in the context of Obama's securing 96 percent of the African-American vote nationwide in 2008 - renders Shabazz and Jackson's self-described "security" efforts pointless. They would have been better off heading to Fairless Hills than Fairmount Avenue.

Indeed, their polling-place selection was so utterly nonsensical that it might be their best defense against allegations of voter intimidation.

I made that point last week during a phone interview with J. Christian Adams, the former voting-rights attorney in the Justice Department's civil-rights division who led the effort to prosecute the case. Adams, who resigned in June to protest the Justice Department's decision to drop the case, emphasized that what happened at 12th and Fairmount was disturbing even if it was illogical.

"When you set up a gauntlet like that,

you're also preventing poll-watchers from getting in and seeing what's going on inside, if election procedures are being followed. There were poll-watchers who were threatened - they were African-American poll-watchers who were working for the Philadelphia Republican Party who were called race traitors, and they were petrified inside there.

"One of the things you accomplish when you set up this armed gauntlet [is] you get rid of the eyes and ears that watch the integrity of the election."

My guess is that Shabazz and Jackson were most interested in putting on a show for those outside the polling location.

Before Nov. 4, 2008, these guys were best known for standing on Market Street in front of City Hall calling white people "crackers" and urging blacks to revolt against their "slave masters" - and that's all about making a scene.

After watching video taken outside the polling place that day and reading eyewitness accounts of what happened, it's clear that Shabazz and Jackson intended to make that an Election Day scene by intimidating somebody.

Why the Justice Department dropped the case - especially after the defendants ignored the charges all together by not even showing up - is beyond me.

The Panthers' behavior can't be tolerated and needs to be prosecuted. That Shabazz has been barred by court order from brandishing any weapon within 100 yards of a polling place doesn't count as full pursuit of the charges his actions warrant. Especially considering that the order stipulates that the ban extend only until 2012 - and only in Philadelphia. Which, I guess, leaves him free to pursue his "security" efforts in Bryn Mawr or Lancaster County on the next presidential Election Day.

Adams' former colleagues in the Justice Department must be authorized to proceed with the case. Just because Shabazz and Jackson were clownish doesn't mean they didn't pose a threat to the most fundamental of American rights.

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Contact him via www.smerconish.com.

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