Politics & Society

Reverse Racism Or Partisan Ploy?

A couple of months ago, we told you about a white former U.S. Justice Department lawyer named J. Christian Adams, who quit his civil service job, alleging that the Justice Department was "hostile" to civil rights violations when white people were the alleged victims.

Adams’ complaint dates back to the 2008 elections, when two people associated with a fringe group called The New Black Panther Party, were seen on video at a Philadelphia polling station, dressed in black combat boots and black berets. One carried a nightstick.

The men said they were there to provide "voter security". The person with the video device, who was paid by a Republican poll watching group, said he felt intimidated by their presence. No actual voters at that precinct complained, but the poll watcher did.

The Justice department eventually filed a lawsuit, which they won when the defendants failed to show up. A portion of the suit was later dropped. But Adams did not believe the department’s stance was sufficiently aggressive and made it known in the conservative media, which has made his case a cause celebre.

We invited him onto the program to talk about it. You can hear that interview here.

Now comes word that the US Civil Rights Commission, by a vote of five to two (with one member absent), has basically agreed with Adams. This past weekend it issued an interim report, saying that the Justice Department did not fully cooperate with its investigation and left open the question of whether its Civil Rights Division is sufficiently aggressive about complaints where white people are the alleged victims. You can read the report here.

It’s worth noting that the commission, while bipartisan, is dominated by conservatives appointed by President George W. Bush. The member who was absent for the vote to issue the report, Abigail Thernstrom, is also a conservative Republican. But she was also critical of the commission's involvement in the case, telling Politico, “My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president.”

And it’s also worth noting that the Civil Rights Division was harshly criticized by its own inspector general, during the Bush administration, for its hiring of individuals with a conservative agenda for career jobs. J.Christian Adams was hired by Bradley Scholzman, the individual at the center of that charge.

But Adams argued to me that his complaints about the Justice Department’s conduct in the case should be evaluated on their own merits.

The question remains: is this a ginned up story, motivated by partisan ideologues whose main motivation is to embarrass the Obama administration? Or does the department have a blind spot when it comes to white people's complaints?

For me, one question to ask is, would the behavior of the people involved – any of them – have been different if the people involved looked different?

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

About