August 19, 2004

A denial of civil rights

City dwellers are rarely concerned about agricultural issues. However, African Americans must stay alert to injustice no matter where they live.

Freed slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule. They never got it. In 1999 the U.S. Department of Agriculture settled a class action case for racial discrimination against black farmers. The government pay out could have been as much as $2.3 billion.

So far only $814 million has been paid to 13,445 farmers. All the rest of the 118,128 timely applicants were rejected. Claims were vigorously challenged.
The failure of the U.S.D.A. to provide loans and subsidies to black farmers has caused farm failures among small black farmers at three times the rate for white farmers. As a result there has been a great loss of black-owned farmland.

The government policy established with 40 acres and a mule, to promise and then deny, still prevails today.

An injustice to Cortiella

David Cortiella saved Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA) from financial ruin. Everyone agrees with that. IBA had lost its contract to manage Villa Victoria, the 900 unit housing complex, home of many Latinos in the South End.

After improving IBA’s operations as a consultant, Cortiella was recruited to become the CEO. His duties included managing the E.T.C. real estate development operations. However, there was a dispute about his compensation from the beginning of his employment in February 2000. From 2000 until he left IBA in 2003, Cortiella paid himself at the rate he believed he had been promised.

The amount in dispute is only $173,000 over about four years. The existence of this disagreement was an open secret to some in the minority community, so it is hard to believe that none of the members of the board were aware of the problem.

The usual practice in industry under similar circumstances is for the board to sever relations with a disgruntled executive. Of course the executive would usually also want to leave professionally unsatisfactory employment. However, those who know David Cortiella are aware of his commitment to the welfare of the community. His commitment kept him involved.

The IBA board is delinquent in failing to resolve this problem early and discreetly. It is unlikely that IBA will be able to recruit equivalent talent for less money. Tragically, many talented blacks and Latinos will find it less attractive to run the risk of working for community organizations, especially when the private sector is more financially rewarding.

Renew the ban

Ten years ago the U.S. Congress passed a law banning the sale of assault weapons. That law will expire on September 13, only three weeks away. So far President Bush has not pushed the Republican Congress to renew the ban. According to reports the gun shops are already gearing up to satisfy the pent up demand for these forbidden tools of death.

With the number of murders in Boston already greater than in all of last year, this is no time for Uzis, AK-47s and Tec-9s to be on the streets again. Assault weapons were designed for military combat. There is no need for them to be generally available.


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