The U.S. Justice Department made the right call in dismissing a voter intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party and recent questions about that ruling are a "political witch hunt" to discredit Attorney General Eric Holder, the party's leader said this week.
Malik Zulu Shabazz, national chairman of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, told The Associated Press the civil lawsuit filed by the federal government had "no merit" because the party doesn't condone voter intimidation.
Shabazz said he was speaking publicly about the issue for the first time because he wanted to set the record straight before the party began celebrating its 20th anniversary during a national three-day summit that started Friday in Dallas.
"I want everybody to take a second look," Shabazz said. "I certainly would like black America and all the world to take a second look at the New Black Panther Party at this point and to understand that we're sincerely trying to help our people."
The Justice Department filed a civil complaint in January against the party, Shabazz and two other members, alleging the other men intimidated voters on Nov. 4, 2008, by standing outside a Philadelphia polling place in paramilitary uniforms.
A video widely distributed on the Internet showed one of the men holding a police-style baton. Shabazz, who was not present, said the member acted on his own and was later suspended for 60 days.
Justice officials later got an injunction against the man with the baton and dropped the complaint against the party, Shabazz and the third member. Some conservatives charged the three got off lightly as a result of political interference from President Barack Obama's administration.
Justice Department officials have said the case was decided by career staffers, not political appointees. But the agency's ethics watchdog, the Office of Professional Responsibility, has launched an internal inquiry into its handling of the case.
Shabazz, an attorney in Washington, said no insider influence played a role. The Panthers "were not active campaigners (for Obama) and he owes us no favors," he said.
He described Holder as a "fair-minded" person.
"I think it's a political witch hunt, part of the overall war that the Republicans are waging against Eric Holder in general," Shabazz said. "This is all about politics, not necessarily about protecting persons."