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Shirley Sherrod / Sister Soldier

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WASHINGTON, DC Over the last 72 hours, the world has learned the current state of civil rights at the United States Department of Agriculture and witnessed a surprising lack of political courage from the Obama Administration regarding the forced resignation of Georgia State Director Shirley Sherrod.

I am a USDA whistleblower. I reported $40 million in government waste, fraud and abuse at USDA during the Clinton Administration, and I have one of the thousands of unresolved EEO cases that Secretary Vilsack referenced.

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The question I have is "Who is Cheryl Cook?"

Recounting the facts reported: Shirley Sherrod claimed that she was told by USDA Deputy Undersecretary Cheryl Cook while driving to immediately pull over to the side of the road and submit her resignation via Blackberry because the White House feared videotapes of her would be featured on Glenn Beck.

The White House denied this claim and stated that they had nothing to do with her termination, although President Obama initially supported Secretary Vilsack's early decision.

Secretary Tom Vilsack admitted that he made the decision to request Shirley Sherrod's resignation, not the White House, but admitted that he did not make the request himself. He regretted, that job fell on Deputy Under Secretary Cheryl Cook.

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Shirley Sherrod emphatically believes that the White House was involved in her termination simply because Cheryl Cook told her so. Thus, the critical matter comes down to "she said" . . . "she said."

Either, Cheryl Cook intentionally lied to Shirley Sherrod about White House involvement in order to force her resignation. If so, then Shirley Sherrod was actually coerced into resigning under false pretense by Cheryl Cook. Or the Deputy Under Secretary knew that the White House was actually involved, and both Secretary Vilsack and the White House are lying.

Which brings me back to my original question just who is Cheryl Cook? Is she the type of person who would lie to USDA employees about White House involvement in negative personnel actions? Or is she someone Secretary Vilsack would fall on the sword to protect?

Another question raised by this incident was why the rush to judgment? Was it really an irrational fear of an adverse media cycle at the White House, or are there other latent civil rights problems at USDA?

I offer this explanation. The rush to judgment and Secretary Vilsack's initial refusal to reconsider, is emblematic of a larger unreported problem at USDA, which is the disparate treatment of cases alleging "reverse discrimination" versus traditional "minority discrimination" cases.

It has been my experience that USDA forces minority EEO claimants through long arduous and faulty administrative processes. But USDA managers treat cases alleging reverse discrimination differently. They are much more willing to settle, negotiate in good faith, and quickly resolve these cases.

The resolution of cases alleging reverse discrimination appears to be quick and efficient. For example, the immediate termination of Shirley Sherrod without an actual complaint, hearing or discussion; while traditional cases of discrimination linger on for years if not decades at USDA.

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I believe that Shirley Sherrod case was handled so clumsily and ineptly because the Secretary/Administration thought they had a Black Women admitting to discriminating against White Farmers, caught on tape ... a Sister Soldier moment.

What's worse, even when the "alleged aggrieved" farmers themselves declared that Shirley Sherrod treated them fairly and actually saved their farm and so did not actually discriminate against them; Secretary Vilsack initially refused to relent or change his position.

Had Secretary Vilsack maintained that position, it could easily have been interpreted in the African American community that a Black person better not even think of discriminating against White people at USDA. The mere thought of reverse discrimination alone was actionable.

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Michael McCray is a public interest advocate who combats racism and corruption in the government and other institutions which deprive individuals of their basic civil rights, human rights and constitutional liberties. McCray is co-chair of the (more...)

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