By Tricia Hall
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter
Ebony Magazine organized a virtual press conference to demand the compassionate release of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and justice for black farmers facing foreclosure. Faith leaders, recently pardoned individuals, impacted farmers and notable black leaders voiced concerns and solutions during the 60-minute meeting on Friday, July 3.
The press conference was aired live on Zoom, and later posted on Facebook and YouTube. Rev. Keyon Payton delivered the opening comments. “We are calling on our president and every decent human being to meet us in this moment of opportunity. We urge you to pass legislation that benefits our black farmers. We’re committed to the protection of black lives, like Kwame Kilpatrick who was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison. We don’t dispute his guilt or innocence, but the excessive length of his sentence because it doesn’t fit the crime.”
Rev. Willie Francois III immediately followed and delivered an opening prayer and call for justice. The press conference continued with a statement delivered by Robert Shumake, PhD, the principle shareholder of Ebony Magazine. “Since the beginning of Ebony, we’ve always made the tough and right choices to speak truth to power. For generations, we have showcased racism and remain committed to speak for the voiceless. Ebony is the DNA code of black America. We want the freedom of Kwame and the black farmers of this nation,” shared Shumake.
Kilpatrick was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison in March 2013 following his conviction on 24 federal felony charges, including mail fraud, wire fraud and racketeering. The Detroit Free Press recently reported about a coronavirus outbreak inside the Oakdale minimum security prison in west Louisiana, where Kilpatrick is confined, and claimed that Kilpatrick would be released soon.
A week later the same newspaper reported that the Federal Bureau of Prisons reviewed and denied Kilpatrick’s home confinement request. Kilpatrick supporters believe that this case demonstrates excessive sentencing, victimization of black men by the criminal justice system and request his release because Kilpatrick is considered high risk to contract Covid-19 and was placed in solitary confinement.
Several additional speakers voiced their support for Kilpatrick’s release including: Rev. Samuel Tolbert; Bishop Edwin Bass, recent pardon recipients Angela Stanton King and Alice Johnson, Kilpatrick’s former pastor Bishop Drew Sheard, and Kilpatrick’s Texas pastor Bishop T.J. Jakes.
“I worked with him personally, he was transparent about his errors and he wanted to rebuild his life. He volunteered to help rehabilitate others. He even sat at my dinner table and met my family. He made mistakes. We appreciate that sentences are punishment, but this is revenge. His exorbitant sentence needs to be reexamined. We call on the president and those in power to right this wrong. Oakdale complex has had seven prisoners die of coronavirus. We don’t want him to pay with his life, because he is at risk of this virus,” explained Bishop Jakes.
The press conference also addressed the lawsuit known as Pigford vs Glickman, the class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The lawsuit alleged racial discrimination towards black farmers in department’s allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1981 and 1996. The lawsuit was settled on April 14, 1999 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Press conference attendees believe that the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to foreclose on thousands of black farmers’ properties while ignoring a court judgement that should forgive the debts. Press conference speakers are concerned that almost 7,000 black farmers in the southern half of the United States are at risk of losing almost 1.5 million acres of their land and that the majority of these farmers were a part of the 1999 lawsuit.
Press conference speaker Rev. Eddie Slaughter gave personal testimony from the black farmer’s experience. “Black farmers signed an agreement and we’re still fighting for justice. Not one black farmer has been able to present a case, equal justice under the law does not exist for us in the past 20 years. We have appealed to the federal court and we’re told that this case falls under subject matter jurisdiction, meaning only the original racist judge, Judge Freeman can hear this case. Not one black farmer can have a hearing, even in my own case. It means no good to win the lawsuit if nothing happens, we are taxpayers. They are just waiting for all of us to die out.”
Supporting Rev. Slaughter request for justice for black farmers included: Bishop T.J. Jakes, Bishop Edwin Bass, Evangelist Alveda King, Apostle Wayne Jackson, and Bishop Vashi McKenzie.
“We are dealing with food insecurities and children who go to bed hungry. Black farmers can work land but never own it, this looks like a historic scam. Black farmers are left with debts even after this lawsuit. It’s time for American to help our black farmers. This country has bailed out Goldman Sakes, banks, airlines, the auto industry, and countless others. It is time to bail out our black farmers. After this conversation, we need action,” explained Bishop McKenzie.
Press conference speakers and attendees included: Bishop Edwin Bass, Rev. Steve Bland, Jr, PhD, Rev. Jamal Bryant, PhD , Rev. Tellis Chapman, Henry Childs, PhD, Ambassador Suzan Cook, Bishop James Dixon II, Bishop Charles Ellis III, Rev. Kenneth Flowers, Rev. Willie Francois III, Rev. Frederick Haynes III, PhD , Apostle Wayne Jackson, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Rev. David Jefferson, PhD, Alice Johnson, Evangelist Alveda King, PhD, Angela Stanton King, Bishop Vashi McKenzie, Rev. Keyon Payton, Rev. James Perkins, PhD, Bishop J. Drew Sheard, Robert Shumake, PhD, Rev. Eddie Slaughter, Rev. Samuel Tolbert, PhD, Bishop Edgar Vann, and Bishop Joseph Walker III.