Commission on Civil Rights: Protecting America From (Reverse) Racism

CHUCK KENNEDY

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ investigation into the New Black Panthers case — specifically, whether racial bias played a role in the Justice Department’s decision to close the case — is part of a pattern at the commission: A pattern of investigating almost exclusively, for lack of a better word, reverse racism.

The conservative majority on the commission, as well as former DOJ lawyer J. Christian Adams and much of the right-wing (including many Republican senators), believe that black members of the New Black Panther Party engaged in widespread intimidation of white voters on Election Day 2008. Further, according to Adams, the Obama administration is purposely dropping cases against black defendants in a blanket policy of pro-black racism.The Panthers investigation — which uses an isolated incident in Philadelphia to allege a widespread conspiracy — is part of a much larger pattern. Many of the cases the commission deals with are complaints not of racism against minorities, but against white Americans.

One of the two Democratic commissioners, Michael Yaki, told TPMmuckraker it’s a “shame” that the commission has chosen such a path — one that, he said, aims to “dismantle the civil rights program that exists throughout this country.”

“The commission has been used as a tool by the right-wingers to legitimize taking far-out positions, because we still carry the brand of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a bipartisan body that has been anything but bipartisan under their leadership,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the commission, Lenore Ostrowsky, dismissed the claims.

“It’s fair to characterize the commission as being extremely concerned” with the rights of minorities, she said, noting that the commission is looking into health care disparities between whites and minorities. A call to the commission’s chairman was not returned.

In April, the commission wrote a letter to the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, telling him the hiring practices of the city’s fire and police departments were “inherently discriminatory” against white male applicants. According to the commission, the city’s practice of hiring from two separate lists — white men who scored high on a service exam, and women and minorities who scored high — violates federal law.

The letter was signed by the six conservative members of the commission. There are two Democrats, who Yaki said have no power to call their own witnesses at briefings or select the cases the commission works on.

In March and December, the conservative majority took on the health care reform bill, writing to House and Senate leaders and decrying the bill’s “racially discriminatory provisions.” The commissioners took issue with, among other things, provisions giving priorities for grants to institutions that train minority and rural doctors.

And they wrote a letter last year urging members of Congress to vote down the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

They also wrote a slew of letters, it should be noted, decrying the Louisiana justice of the peace who refused to marry interracial couples.

Writing letters, however, is small potatoes for the commission. The commission’s biggest yearly project is the annual enforcement report. The Panthers investigation comprises the entirety of this year’s enforcement report.

Last year, it was a 250-page report on civil rights and the mortgage crisis.

The two Democratic commissioners, Michael Yaki and Arlan Melendez, wrote rebuttals to that report. They argued that the commission ignored the question of whether the government had done enough to enforce anti-discrimination laws in mortgage lending. That question, they said, is critical when the mortgage crisis disproportionately affected minorities who had been, disproportionately, the target of sub-prime mortgage lenders.

The commission’s majority argued back that there is “no logical or other reason to suspect discrimination” in the lending of sub-prime loans. Reports by groups such as the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, however, show that minorities were disproportionately likely to receive subprime loans, and moreover that middle- and upper-class minorities were far more likely to receive high-cost loans than their similarly situated white counterparts. The report noted such stats but commissioners did not ask whether it was evidence of race-based steering.

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