Volume 3, Number 2 March 7, 2000
Black farmers speak from the D.C. Jail
By Dr. Ridgely A. Muímin Muhammad
On a beautiful sunny day in the capital of the United States 12 Black farmers were put in jail. Their crime? They wanted to ask Sec. Dan Glickman "why wonít he live up to the provisions of the Consent Decree?" The previous week a group of Black farmers came to the USDA to talk with Glickman, however they were only allowed to speak to two underlings. The farmers told them that they were going to return on March 6th to speak with Glickman, only.
However, when the Black farmers returned at 10:00 A.M. on Monday, they were even denied access to the building and forced to stay on the sidewalk in front of the USDA building denied of their right to enter a public facility where visitors were supposedly welcomed. After picketing on the sidewalk and demanding to talk to Glickman for over an hour, twelve black farmers peacefully approached the front door to enter. The door was not locked but six security guards held the door closed. After fifteen minutes of attempting to enter the building, Black farmers were warned that they would be arrested if they did not stop trying to enter the building. Subsequently, the Black farmers sat down and waited to be handcuffed and taken to jail charged with blocking an entrance to a public facility.
One of the farmers, Mr. Tom Burrell called all the major networks --CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX--to tell them that the Black farmers were going to the USDA on Monday. However, there were no cameras their to show the people the price of seeking justice from the USDA. It seems that innocent black men being carted off to jail is "old news" in America. The only live coverage was through a cellular phone hook up to the Tom Pope Show, a syndicated talk show in D.C.
The Black farmers that went to jail were Gary Grant, national president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association (BFAA), Mr. Griffin Todd, Sr. from North Carolina; Morris James, Eddie Slaughter, Ridgely Muhammad, Charles Denard and Dennis Moore from Georgia; Lloyd Shaffer from Mississippi; Richard Jackson, Marrin Sanderlin and Fred Sanders from Tennessee; and Alton Jarrett from Florida.
While in the Washington, D.C. jail we were able to interview some of them to ask them why they were willing to go to jail.
Mr. Alton Jarrett said, "I am disappointed at the government of the United States of America. I was sure that they were not for Blacks but I didnít know that they would treat us this badly. We need help."
"My name is Richard Jackson. I am a farmer, my father was a farmer, my grandfather was a farmer. They were mistreated for many years. I am here to represent them and I will die representing them."
"I am Dennis Moore. Iíve been a farmer for quite a while and this government has denied me loans based on my color. I came to Washington, D.C. to protest and I will come back as long as they donít give us justice."
Eddie Slaughter said, "Iím sitting here in the Washington, D.C. jail and Iím trying to really comprehend what is going on. But all America means to me is jail, because as a black farmer when people do me an injustice they donít go to jail but when I try to get justice I wind up in jail."
"My name is Lloyd Shaffer. I am one of the lead plaintiffs in this case and I heard with my own ears, Al Pires, the lead lawyer in the Pigford vs Glickman lawsuit, say on Wednesday that Ďhe wished that he would never have another black farmer step into his office, never have to hear another black farmerís caseí Al Pires is not fighting for us but for himself."
Mr. Morris James had to be taken from the police van and rushed to the hospital after collapsing. The driver of the police van turned the heat up too high causing great discomfort to all of us. We complained, but by the time they responded to our pleas, Mr. James fail victim to the heat and lack of air. All we could do was to beg for help. We were handcuffed and locked down.
After a precarious wait an ambulance finally came but the police would not tell us which hospital he was taken to. Even after someone posted bail for us, they still would not give us his location. He was finally released around 5:00 p.m. Mr. James said that, "when I finally came to, I was a little disappointed that no one from the group was with me. The police made it a point to ask me where were my supporters. After I got back with my group and I found out that the police kept my location secret I was even angrier. I wished that nobody had posted bail. I wouldnít mind staying in jail for weeks if necessary. Now I have a mind to sue this government again for how they treated us and me up here. That was a public building and we at least have a right to go to the bathroom."
Gary Grant, the president of BFAA, said from his cell, "this is just the beginning, so Dan Glickman, Al Gore and Bill Clinton had better get used to seeing more of us in jail, if they do not intend to give us justice and our land back. My family has been fighting this battle for 24 years. My father is sick. My brother is sick, and I am tired. But weíll be back on March 20th and back and back....Tell the people out there to call Dan Glickman and give him hell. ((202)720-3631) Call Rep. Goodlatte too (chairman of House Ag Committee-(202) 225-0171)."
"My name is Mr. Griffin Todd, Sr. born in North Carolina, 72 years old, never been locked up in my life, father of seven children. All of them law abiding citizens. They have never been locked up. Most all of them have been to college. They are hard workers. We black farmers have been treated just like black dogs. And I want the whole world to know that. I never been locked up before and I donít mind being locked up when I know that I am doing right. Thatís all Iíve got to say."
For more information on the March 20th plans contact Gary Grant at (252) 826-2800 or email: TILLERY@aol.com.
Out of jail, but still in the "Middle Passage", peace, Doc.
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