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By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
By Barrington M. Salmon Aug. 7, 2016
For more than two decades, Black farmers have driven tractors to Capitol Hill and walked the halls of Congress, coaxing, cajoling and confronting lawmakers.
They have also filed lawsuits, protested and demonstrated. All of this an effort to correct an admittedly egregious legacy of racism and discrimination by the US Department of Agriculture.
Despite high profiled settlements several years ago, just last month, three dozen farmers and their supporters from Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky descended on the steps of the United States Supreme Court. At the rally and demonstration, the protesters promised to fight until they’re heard and one of their members, Bernice Atchison, filed a writ with the Supreme Court.
“[Former USDA Secretary Dan] Glickman acknowledged that the agency had discriminated against Black farmers. We have dealt with bias, discrimination and double standards,” said Georgia Farmer Eddie Slaughter in front of the court. “We had supervised accounts which meant they had power over our money and county loan officers discriminated against Black farmers. It’s been nothing but fraud, deceit and breach of contract. Our damages are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have persecuted us and now, 35-40 percent of Black farmers have been run out of the business. They were supposed to return one and a half million acres of land to Black farmers but didn’t.”
Slaughter concluded, “We’re here to say Black farmers of 2016 are the Dred Scott of 1857. He demanded to be free. The fraud and corruption amounts to economic terrorism against Black farmers. We don’t have anyone standing up for us. The Congressional Black Caucus or President Obama could have created a national investigative commission. But they’ve done nothing. Equal justice under the law does not exist in this.”
Bernice Atchison, president of Black Farmers of Alabama, agreed as she recounted her long ordeal since the USDA seized and sold 239 acres of family land.
“My husband’s father died and they sold the land on the steps of the courthouse,” she explained as she held an armful of folders. “I’ve been fighting since 1983. I’m 78 years old. It’s been a long time for me. I have enough evidence that it would take a truck to haul it away. I walked the halls of the Capitol Hill with (the late) John Boyd, going from office-to-office.”
In 2004, Congress asked Atchison to testify before a subcommittee.
“They said my face was the face of the 66,000 Black farmers who’d been denied and said my due process had been violated,” She recalled. “Congress called me as an expert eyewitness before them and a judge gave me standing in the court. I’m the most impacted but I haven’t been paid. They’re punishing me. We’re asking for justice not a set amount.”
Atchison said she has a case on the docket that she filed in 2014. But, she says she and her colleagues have hit a brick wall.
“It’s been 20 years that farmers have been saying that they’ve been mistreated and we’re still losing land,” said Gary R. Grant, president of the Black Farmers & Agriculturists Association & The Land Loss Fund. “Where we had one million farmers, that number is down to 20,000. Many farmers feel a sense of helplessness, a number are suffering from disease and health issues we’ve never dealt with such as diabetes and high blood pressure. They’re wiping us out. The land isn’t disappearing. It’s been stolen from us.”
Grant said there has been no Congressional investigation into the assortment of alleged abuses by local farm service agencies.
“Not a single employee at USDA has lost their job,” said Grant. “Between 1981 and 1996, 64 percent of Black farmers have (disappeared) and only one person was forced to retire but with full benefits.”
Repeated attempts to secure comments and reaction from the USDA were not successful. However, a 1994 USDA study examined the treatment of racial minorities and women as the agency was weathered allegations of pervasive racial discrimination in the way its employees handled applications for farm loans and grants to primarily Southern black farmers. Between 1990 and 1995, researchers found that “minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.”
The final report noted that the USDA gave corporations 65 percent of loans, while 25 percent of the largest payments went to White male farmers. Further, 97 percent of disaster payments went to White farmers, with less than 1 percent reaching black farmers.
The study highlighted “gross deficiencies” in the way the USDA collected and handled data which muddied the reasons for the discrepancies in treatment between Black and White farmers in such a manner that the reasons couldn’t easily be determined.
Carol Estes, in a story about the travails of Black farmers in a Yes! Magazine article headlined, “Second Chance for Black Farmers,” details one of the many challenges.
Estes reports, “The USDA does provide a remedy for farmers who believe they’ve been treated unfairly: They can file a claim with the agency’s civil rights complaint office in Washington, DC,” she said. “There’s a hitch, though. Ronald Reagan shut down that office in 1983, and the USDA never informed farmers. So for the next 13 years, until the office was reopened by the Clinton administration, black farmers’ complaints literally piled up in a vacant room in the Agriculture building in Washington.”
The farmers who congregated in front of the Supreme Court cited figures ranging from 14,000 to 40,000 cases they say the USDA has failed to process. The official put in charge of unblocking the bottleneck is a part of the problem because he’s made no effort to facilitate the processing of the backed up claims, they charge.
The farmers have received two settlements, Pigford I and II, class action lawsuits which together have allocated about $2.25 billion to tens of thousands of Black farmers. The first lawsuit was settled in April 1999 by US District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman. And in December 2010, Congress appropriated $1.2 billion for 70,000 additional claimants.
The judgment was the largest civil rights settlement in this country’s history. While some see the settlement as a victory, for most Black farmers it’s bitter-sweet because the settlement payments aren’t enough to buy farm equipment, give farmers long-term comfort; and in no way makes up for the destruction of rural Black communities and the theft of land by government officials, they say.
For example, the farmers detailed the travails of Eddie and Dorothy Wise, North Carolina farmers who were forced off their 106-acre farm in January by 14 heavily armed sheriffs and federal marshals. They said this happened without the couple being granted any hearing. Wise, a 67-year-old retired Green Beret and his wife, a retired grants manager, lived on their farm for more than 20 years. After being evicted, the Wises lost their property and are living in a hotel. A GoFundMe page is soliciting help for the family. Supporters have raised $6,000 toward the $50,000 goal.
“Nothing has been done to enhance the opportunities and fairness. What they’ve been doing is working to manipulate and separate the black farmer from his community where he lives, and critically himself,” said Grant.
Lawrence Lucas, who worked with the federal government for 38 years, said little has changed at the agency.
“There’s a reason why they call the USDA ‘the last plantation.’ The civil rights problems there have not been fixed,” said Lucas, president emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees. “Ninety-seven percent of Black farmers did not get the debt relief promised in the agreement. Things are not better, which is why we have to stand up.”
The farmers said the White House, the US Department of Justice, Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights leaders have done little to bring this long-running saga to a close.
“Cases have not been processed and no investigation has been undertaken,” Lucas said.
Oklahoma resident Muhammad Robbalaa said he was at the rally “because a fighter doesn’t quit.”
He said, “I have an older brother who lost his land in 1983. He had a stroke after we fought a battle with the State Supreme Court,” said Robbalaa, 75. “They ruled that it was other folks land and they gave it to White folks. I’m still in the cattle business and my daughters have come back and joined the business. I originally owned 250 acres of land but now I’m on leased land.”
Grant, Slaughter, Atchison and the other farmers said the government has colluded, nothing’s changed, they are further victimized and the land they own continues to be seized and stolen.
“People think that Pigford and $50,000 settled all our issues, but it hasn’t. You can’t even buy a tractor with just that,” Grant said. “They continue to take and foreclose Black farmers. The (lawsuit) assured us a hearing before foreclosure and that has not happened. All we want is justice and equality.”Post Views: 352
By Elliot Booker — 1 year ago
“Time For An Awakening” for Sunday 4/29/2018 at 7:00 PM (EST) our guest was Activist, Educator, Akil Parker. The topic ” Public School Curriculum vs Black Students. “, how it shortchanges our children and what we can do about it.Post Views: 260
By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, the top prosecutor with a notorious reputation for turning a blind-eye to following ethics rules, has clearly seen the proverbial handwriting on the wall.
Williams a few days ago announced that he would not seek reelection to a third term. That suprise announcement evidenced belated recognition by Williams that his quest for reelection would be an uphill struggle if not an impossible mission thanks to fallout from his many ethical failings and questionable practices, as well as ongoing criminal investigations into his finances by the FBI and IRS.
That career-ending announcement by Williams came weeks after Philadelphia’s Ethics Board slapped this once promising and popular politician with a $62,000 fine for his failure to file mandatory financial disclosure forms for five years. His fine – the largest ever levied by Philadelphia’s Ethics Board – faulted Williams for not reporting over $160,000 in gifts that included fancy vacations and expensive jewelry, including from attorneys who were defending cases against his department.
Williams claimed improbably that he merely forgot to file the mandatory disclosure forms from 2010 to 2015.
But that claim fails the laugh test because Williams once served as Philadelphia’s Inspector General, the post tasked with ethics rule enforcement. During his announcement about withdrawing from reelection, Williams apologized for the embarrassment and shame he brought on the District Attorneys Office.
The Williams’ re-election prospects were already in doubt due to erosions of support among his core constituency in the black community and his calculated if unsuccessful effort to cultivate support from Philadelphia’s police union. That labor organization, the Fraternal Order of Police, has a history of reflexively backing police brutality and misconduct that primarily impacts blacks in the so-called City of Brotherly Love.
In recent weeks the FOP launched attacks on Williams arising in part from his decisions not to prosecute civilians who had been victims in questionable confrontations with police officers. Those FOP attacks included an anti-Williams billboard on the major interstate highway that runs through the center of Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s NAACP branch recently blasted Williams for failing to prosecute three white men involved in a fatal building collapse while gaining the convictions of two poor black men connected with that incident. A civil trial jury in that building collapse recently found that the men Williams refused to prosecute were most responsible for that fatal incident, awarding the victims and victims’ families nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in damages.
Williams was already under fire in Philadelphia’s black community for his prosecution of five black state representatives for their failure to report gifts on financial disclosure forms –- the same crime that Williams committed which led to his record-setting Ethics Board fine.
The total value of all ‘gifts’ received by those five legislators was less than half of the value of just one gift Williams received in 2013 and failed to report until August 2016: $45,000 worth of roofing repairs on his home.
Autopsies of Williams’ fall from grace in Philadelphia’s news media fail to note a failing that produced international condemnation of this top prosecutor: his repeated gratuitous assaults on imprisoned Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Philadelphia journalist widely considered to be an American political prisoner because of how politically corrupted his trial and appeals process has been.
One such assault came in early 2014 when DA Williams, a Democratic, aligned himself with Tea Party Republican Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Pat Toomey to torpedo President Obama’s nomination of a respected lawyer to head the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.
The national police union had falsely accused Obama nominee Debo Adegbile of having successfully freed Abu-Jamal from death row when Adegbile worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The National FOP harped on Abu-Jamal’s conviction as a “cop killer.”
However, the lawyer whose courtroom arguments resulted in federal court rulings producing the conversion of Abu-Jamal’s death sentence into a life in prison term was not Adegbile but a law school professor who represented Abu-Jamal’s years before the LDF had even joined Abu-Jamal’s appeal.
The national FOP used Abu-Jamal as a bogey man to mask the true intent of its opposition to Adegbile: fear that Adegbile would continue Obama Administration efforts to address rampant police abuses.
The FOP letter that Seth Williams, Toomey and their Senate confederates seized upon to slam Adegbile clearly stated that organization’s concern that Adegbile would “certainly exacerbate” the Obama Administration’s “aggressive and punitive approach towards” police.
The national FOP bristled at the Justice Department’s investigation of errant police departments despite the fact that those investigations only produced recommendations for reforms not prosecutions of abusive officers or funding cuts for departments with persistent patterns of brutality.
DA Williams, hailing from a city with a history of police brutality, backed the national police union’s efforts to scuttle federal oversight of abuse policing. Williams’s actions against Obama’s nominee provided more evidence to critics who claimed he has an anti-black streak.
Rufus Seth Williams entered office in January 2010 with widespread support. Yet the actions and inactions of the first black to serve as the District Attorney of Philadelphia soon turned even avid supporters into ardent critics.
Williams, for example, campaigned for office in 2009 as an opponent of the death penalty. Yet in office, Williams bitterly castigated Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf for initiating a moratorium on executions in 2015, going so far as filing a legal challenge against it.
That moratorium on executions arose in part from revelations that staff members working for DA Williams had mislead state officials during their deliberations about a death row inmate. Philadelphia prosecutors were found to have illegally withheld critical evidence during that inmate’s murder trial in 1986, which tainted his conviction.
Williams, ironically, had campaigned in 2009 as an opponent of unjust convictions.
Williams wasted a lot of political capital defending three staff members caught up in ‘Porngate’ –- the scandal related to revelations that a bunch of Pennsylvania judges and stat- level prosecutors in the attorney general’s office had exchanged emails containing racist, misogynic and homophobic content. One of those staff members — a former state level prosector — was at the center of the prosecution of those five black state legislators and the two black men connected with that fatal building collapse. Williams repeatedly rejected requests to fire those ‘Porngate’ staff members, including demands from irate female members of Philadelphia’s City Council.
Williams’ failure to consistently pursue basic justice overshadowed the reforms he implemented.
Those failures included his indefensible insistance on a retrial of man cleared by DNA after having spent 25-years in prison, as well as his year-plus-long attempt to convict a young man for an alleged crime that defied common sense.
In that second case, the blind next-door neighbor of that young man –- a woman with a history of making false accusations -– had told police her dog had dialed 911, saving her from asphyxiation after an alleged robber had supposedly turned on her gas stove during an attempted break-in. Williams eventually dropped charges against man following criticisms in the media and from community activists over the absurd claim.
Philadelphia attorney and activist Michael Coard responded to a reporter’s inquiry about Williams’ decision to withdraw from the DA’s race with this statement: “I say good riddance to bad rubbish.” Over the weekend, the city’s main paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a lead editorial, called on Williams, who had said he intended to finish out his term of office, leaving early in 2018, to resign immediately because of his scandals.
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