A few weeks ago I defended United States Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod against charges of bigotry arising from a soundbite snippet of a speech she gave to a Georgia NAACP group that appeared to show her discriminating against a white farmer. It was clearly misleading and taken out of context. She was summarily fired, unfairly so, causing a red faced Secretary of Agriculture to publically apologize and offer her a new job.
While my defense of how Shirley Sherrod was treated still stands, there is more to the Shirley story.
In 1994, 400 Black farmers, mostly in southern states, filed a class action lawsuit against the USDA charging discrimination in receiving farm loans and other services from the Agricultural Department. Among the plaintiffs were Shirley Sherrod and her husband.
Well, the plaintiffs won and the Sherrods fattened their back account to the tune of 12.5-million from a taxpayer funded settlement, a million or so of that settlement was to assuage the Sherrod's "pain and suffering" from the discrimination.
But the lawsuit never went away. As the government doled out settlement dollars, the original 400 Black farmer-plaintiffs metastasized to an astounding 86,000-plus. And in February of this year, at the insistence of the President, the USDA quietly agreed to shell out 1.25-billion (that is billion with a "b") in taxpayer money to settle all claims.
Oh Shirley, oh Shirley, how can this be? Because the Census Department shows there are only 39,697 Black farmers in all of America. You do the math.
What may have originally been a legitimate grievance has become a scam - a scam that should be halted immediately. Not one more penny of payout should be made until the FBI and the Justice Department investigate the validity of each claim. Any of the 86,000-plus who are found to have unfounded claims should find themselves back in court, this time in front of a criminal judge.
Congress has rejected reparations. This settlement smacks of reparations and the funds being used by the USDA to pay claims should be temporarily impounded by Congress.
After a thorough probe is completed, whatever is still due Black farmers who actually suffered discrimination should be paid and any USDA employees who were complicit in that discrimination, still working for the department, should be fired and their pensions placed in jeopardy.
As for Shirley, she is an example of just how well pain and suffering pays.