WASHINGTON -- A prominent civil rights group has condemned a Washington Times political cartoon attacking President Barack Obama's nominee to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, describing it on Thursday as "race-baiting."
The cartoon, which only ran in the print edition of The Washington Times this week, "is reminiscent of the racist iconography of late 19th century America designed to dehumanize and stereotype African Americans who were only beginning to throw off the shackles of chattel slavery," Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement to The Huffington Post.
The cartoon features former NAACP Legal Defense Fund official Debo Adegbile, who was nominated to the post by Obama back in November. Adegbile is pictured standing next to a puppet version of Mumia Abu Jamal, a convicted murder who was given what two appellate courts determined was an unconstitutional death sentence. The cartoon is a reference to Adegbile's work on Sesame Street as a child, and his legal representation of Jamal in his work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
A Washington Times representative directed HuffPost to the paper's managing editor, who did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
“Until today, we’ve ignored the race-baiting and dog whistle politics that form the basis of opposition to Debo Adegbile’s nomination to head the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice," Henderson's statement continued. "We’ve disregarded the distortions about Adegbile’s efforts to ensure that all Americans can live and work free of discrimination and we’ve thoughtfully debunked the fearmongering around his work on death penalty cases like that of Mumia Abu Jamal."
But Henderson said the Washington Times caricature "is beyond the pale of acceptable mainstream debate" and called Adegbile "one of the preeminent civil rights lawyers of his generation."
"He’s the son of immigrants who worked his way through law school to defend American democracy in the U.S. Supreme Court. But to the Washington Times, Fox News, and others, he’s a buffoonish caricature and a ‘cop killer.’ The American Bar Association has debunked this lie, and wrapping it in racially charged rhetoric does not make it any more true," Henderson said.
Adegbile’s work on the Mumia Abu Jamal case has come under attack by conservatives and by the right-leaning National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest law enforcement organization. But the head of the American Bar Association this month wrote that Adegbile's work is "consistent with the finest tradition of this country’s legal profession and should be commended, not condemned." Adegible testified during his confirmation hearing earlier this month that he got involved in the case because of questions about how the jury had been instructed on the death penalty issue.
"This type of character assassination harkens back to the baseless and unrelenting attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s McCarthy hearings, which led counsel Joseph Welch to ask Senator McCarthy, ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?'" Henderson said. "'Have you left no sense of decency?’"