Volume 14, Number 2 December 4, 2010
Free the Black Land!
By Dr. Ridgely A. Mu’min Muhammad
Many people are excited to hear that the Black farmers are finally receiving justice due to the Senate passing legislation funding a settlement for discrimination against Black farmers. However, the “devil is in the details” and the enemy is at work to mix poison with honey to ensnare the unaware.
“There's no question. The bar is much higher,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), a CBC member and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
The legislation to be sent to the president would provide $4.55 billion to settle longstanding discrimination claims with the Department of Agriculture from Black and Native American farmers.
The additional steps added to the claims process for the Black farmers and not the Native American farmers, include an audit by an inspector general and oversight by the attorney general's office, as well as a review by the secretary of Agriculture, who must sign off on a farmer’s claim. Attorneys involved in cases must swear in writing that the claims are legitimate, and a special federal “adjudicator” must also take an oath that the claim is legitimate and may request additional information and documentation. At the end of the process is another round of oversight and review from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Justice at the top levels.
The new standards for the “Pigford” claimants were added by the Senate after several attempts to move the legislation failed. The additional requirements were meant to meet concerns about fraud that were raised most notably by Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Steve King (R-Iowa).
“We need to have an investigation of every single claim going out,” Bachmann said in an interview. “This is $50,000 of the taxpayers' money to every single claimant.
What we have heard from whistleblowers is that there are people in urban areas living in highrises getting $50,000 who have never been on a farm and have never lived on a farm,” Bachmann said.
However, here is the rub. To be eligible for money now, “…claimants must have farmed or attempted to farm between 1981 and 1996, have filed a discrimination complaint before July 1, 1997, and have filed a claim after the deadline in the original settlement.” Here is the trick that leaves the door open for claims of fraud by the Republicans. How can a person who is not a farmer prove that he or she “attempted to farm between 1981 and 1996”? The Republicans claim that there are only 20,000 Black farmers according to the Census of Agriculture, but how many Black people could have “attempted to farm”? What type of unchallengeable evidence can a person present in 2010 that they “attempted to farm between 1981 and 1996“?
The Pigford II lawsuit unlike any other class action lawsuit that we know of has an attached threat that any claimant may be investigated by the Inspector General’s office. The Republicans in the Senate demanded that such draconian measures be taken to ensnare Black farmers over $50,000 while in 2008 they let the bankers walk away with $700 billion with no questions asked.
That threat alone, along with the wording of who may be eligible, should be ample warning for anyone who still owns farm land to stay away from such a minor and short term gain. Any such investigation could cause unnecessary legal ramifications that could put that land at risk.
The fact that some of the funding for this settlement is to be taken out of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program may give a signal to the public that Black farmers are taking food away from women and children. Therefore if a claimant is later charged with some type of fraud, the public will not have a sympathetic ear. However, if you are desperate for money and have nothing to lose, it may be worth the chance to win $10 to $50 thousand that will not even buy a new farm tractor. And you must also factor in the tax implications.
What we need is a farm movement and not a cheap payday. The Black farmers went to court in 1997 to stop the USDA from foreclosing on 3,000 black farms, not $50,000. That cash settlement was developed by Al Pires, the Black farmers lawyer, and accepted by the federal judge in spite of the objections by lead plaintiffs in the Pigford lawsuit. The Pigford I settlement was designed to deny the legitimate claims of active Black farmers while enticing none farmers to participate. So instead of 3,000 claimants they increased the claims to 22,000 so they could deny the 3,000 without people being suspicious of the USDA’s intent to steal more land, which they ultimately did in a number of cases. They denied legitimate claimants because they did not give the correct “similarly situated white farmer” and let others in based on “attempted to farm between 1981 and 1996“.
Some estimate that as many as 68,000 people may file is Pigford II. Republicans claim that this is impossible because there are only 20,000 Black farmers. Let me end this charade by the Republicans once and for all. First of all, the time frame under investigation begins in 1981 when, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture there were at least 33,000 Black farmers. However, by 1996 there were only 20,000. Could it be that the 13,000 missing farmers from the 1996 USDA census are not dead but were put out of business by the USDA and that is why they are filing in the lawsuit? So now we are up to 33,000 legitimate claims.
But oh, the lawsuit accepts those would-be farmers who “attempted to farm between 1981 and 1996”. Could it be possible that at least one of the children of each of these 33,000 Black farmers went to the USDA to get a loan to either buy their parents out or go into farming in a separate operation? Therefore we have found another 33,000 eligible claimants. Of course, we don’t die we multiply. So each Black farmer could have had a number of children to attempt to farm between 1981 and 1996. So leave the Black farmers alone and go run after “crooked finger” Paulson and find our $700 billion. While you are out witch hunting for Black fraud, ask the Federal Reserve Chairman how many trillions of dollars has he loaned his banker friends at no interest and no requirements to repay.
Black farmers are treated like children who can’t add and subtract, do not know their rights nor what is good for them. Unfortunately, their white lawyers, the USDA, the Justice Department, and now the congressional Republicans, are their evil stepparents. These evil stepparents just love using the same set of whips from the days of their “night riding” parents. Free the Black land!!! Free the Black land before they kill us all with their Frankenfood!!!
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