Volume 3, Number 1 March 3, 2000
Preparing new Strategy against the USDA
by Dr. Ridgely A. Muímin Muhammad
Listening wonít grow food and the USDA is not giving back any of the blood that it sucked from Black farmers even though they were caught in the act of sucking. The Black farmers descended on the nationís capital Monday, February 28th once again seeking justice through the courts, this time at the Federal Court of Appeals. Attorney David Schnorrenberg speaking on behalf of Black Farmers and Agriculturists Association (BFAA), which brought along 75 farmers from 12 states and other farmers being denied benefits under the Pigford vs Glickman lawsuit pointed out the fallacies in an agreement that allows the government to default on payments and priority loans for farmers who qualified under the Consent Decree.
Al Pires had convinced the Judge that the hurdles would be low enough in this Consent Decree to allow 80 to 90 percent of the farmers that did apply to win the $50,000, instead the hurdles have allowed through only 60 percent and the process has been delayed into another growing season for another 10,000 applicants.
To defend the present lawsuit stood Al Pires the head attorney for the Black farmers who pleaded to the court to not listen to Attorney Schnorrenberg, because he, Al Pires, had lost three years of his life helping Black farmers. This is the same Al Pires, according to Melvin Bishop, the President of the Georgia chapter of BFAA, who called the president of Ft.Valley State University to demand that the Black farmers not be allowed to use meeting rooms on campus. The farmers were organizing to protest the wording of the Consent Decree tendered on November 3, 1998. The farmers knew then that this document was not in their favor.
The farmers did organize and they did go to the Fairness Hearing in March of 1999. Judge Freedman even agreed with the changes that the farmers demanded, however the farmersí own lawyers did not want to change one line in this piece of junk sold to the American public by the media as the "Second Coming". This Consent Decree is proving to be the "Second Drumming" of the Black Farmers. But where is the audience? The farmers can not find the press. Could this be an item that may embarrass the Democratic party in a major election year?
Bro. Barry Crumbley, the New York representative for BFAA, was in line to ask Al Gore a question about the Black farmers at the "debate" at the Apollo two weeks ago. After one of the commentators read the gist of his question, Bro. Barry was taken out of line and not allowed to speak. There goes your "freedom of speech".
Al Pires was invited to be a part of the lawsuit, not by the farmers, but by the black representative that the six lead plaintiffs asked to pursue their grievance. Soon Al Pires became the lead lawyer and that same representative, Sam Taylor has been kicked to the curb by Al Pires.
This is the same Al Pires who told the Black farmers that all they needed to win the $50,000 was to be black and farming between 1981 and 1996, but instead Black farmers are being denied arbitrarily and capriciously as though the Consent Decree was a ticket to a lottery. This is the same Al Pires who told the court and the farmers that the average debt relief for those filing under the Track A provision would be $107, 500 but has turned out to be only $17,500.
Now Al Pires is taking this same document to use against the Native Americans under the guise of being their friend. Al Pires is not another Kunstler. I wonder if you can sue your lawyer for malpractice? This is a question that Phil Haney asked. Now Mr. Haney has a right to ask such a tough question, because he was the Black farmer who had a gun pulled on him by a FSA agent of the USDA in Virginia. The agent is still working and Al Pires is still getting paid and his "clients" are still getting shafted. The real question is not "can you sue your lawyers, but who will break with tradition and sue another lawyer?"
The farmers left the court house and met in the Rayburn building before going to the USDA building. Tom Burrell, a farmer from Tennessee, stated that, "...relatives of FSA employees were being used as adjudicators in this lawsuit." It is the adjudicators and not the judge who are determining whether farmers have a right to monetary relief.
Stephon Bowens, a lawyer from the Land Loss Prevention Project, told the farmers that "...the government is using the Privacy Act to bar disclosure of information that might help a Black farmer win his case while bringing forth documentation that the local FSA offices said did not exist to attempt to disqualify others." He further added that "...the government lawyers were filing motions to dismiss and the adjudicators are accepting. This was not a part of the Consent Decree." Further, he stated, "the adjudicators are asking the USDA how much of the debt owed by the farmers should be forgiven, whereas it says in the Consent Decree that Ďallí USDA debt was to be forgiven."
Many farmers asked "have the lawyers been paid?" The answer was given as "yes".
A monitor was finally put in place on March 1, 2000, nine months too late. She is white, while 8 Blacks were nominated to the Judge. However, BFAA is asking that the farmers flood her office with "complaints so high that they finally reach Clinton and Gore." Her name is Randy Roth and her number is (877) 924-7483
At the USDA building they were met by security guards who told them that they had to have an invitation before they could get in. Finally they were invited by two of Glickmanís front people who could not tell the farmers if Glickman was in the building or on Mars. As a matter of fact, neither Ms. Rosylin Gray, Director of the Civil Rights Division of the USDA, nor Mr. Paul Fiddick, Assistant Secretary-Administration, had much to say. They just listened as the farmers questioned them about why the USDA is denying 40% of the Black farmers benefits under the lawsuit.
Wayne Alexander, a farmer from Kansas asked that the USDA "...to put a moratorium on all pending foreclosures until all appeals are made."
Eddie Slaughter, Vice-president of BFAA, asked that the USDA stop "...taking off set payments from the farmers in the lawsuit while at the same time denying these farmers the $50,000. They are taking money that is due to these farmers, so the $50,000 is a sham. Out of the $6.8 billion in disaster payments for 1999, no Black farmers in the lawsuit have received payments."
Gary Grant, the President of BFAA, summed up the farmers demand by stating that "...the USDA stop all foreclosure procedures, stop taking off set payments on taxes, disaster payments and CRP payments and stop hiding evidence that would help Black farmers win their cases."
Mr. Fiddick explained that he had been on the job for only three months and did not know what powers he had or what he could do about anything. He was there to just listen. Mr. Haney suggested that Mr. Fiddick could begin his duties by firing Ms. Rosylin Gray. Mr. Fiddick hemmed and hawed about standard procedures and chain of command, etc. Dr. Ridgely broke in and asked, "Straight up, do you have the power to fire Ms. Gray, yes or no? Yes or no, answer the question." Mr. Fiddick retorted by saying that he preferred not to answer that question directly.
On that note Dr. Ridgely asked him to listen very carefully and deliver a message to Dan Glickman for Al Gore. "Since you can just listen, then pass this on. If Dan Glickman ainít cleaned up this mess with the Black farmers, that is give them their money, then he can tell Al Gore that he will not be president of these United States. See you next Monday and bring Dan with you."
Today is Friday, March 3, 2000. Back in February, Rep. Sanford Bishop announced at a Black farmersí conference that Al Gore would be campaigning in Albany on March 3rd. However, according to the news room at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Al Gore will not be going to Albany but instead is attending a dinner at the Hyatt Regency where no questions are scheduled to be asked. It seems that BFAA has Al Gore on the run. Run Al, run.
On Monday, March 6, 2000 BFAA is spearheading along with 10 other organizations a protest on the Jefferson Street side of the USDA against this Consent Decree and the continued discrimination by the USDA against Black farmers. For more information call Mr. Grant at (252) 826-2800 or e-mail: TILLERY@aol.com.