by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Adebayo
The myth of Barack Obama’s concern for Black people masks the reality of his administration’s cynical service to corporate criminals. Tennie White, a heroic whistleblower, was railroaded to prison by Obama’s EPA for defending her community from environmental racism. Her persecution “must be seen as a part of a pattern and practice of criminalizing people who challenge corporate power.”
Imagine a Women’s March Against Black Genocide and the Struggle of Tennie White
by BAR editor and columnist Dr. Marsha Adebayo
“Tennie is the only person connected to two huge environmental contamination cases in Mississippi to ever serve prison time.”
Imagine what the last eight years under President Obama could have looked like if millions had taken to the street to articulate their demands and to fight for accountability. The Black misleadership class is engaged in a strategy to convince Black folks to surrender to a state of political amnesia regarding the Obama years. Years that included drone strikes against civilians, Flint, Michigan lead poisoning, prisons swelling up with Black bodies, police murders of Black men and women, Department of Justice refusal to press civil rights violations against the murderers of Trayvon Martin (George Zimmerman) and Michael Brown (Darren Wilson.) In fact, Zimmerman and Wilson were found blameless by the Obama Justice Department as well as 99% of all claims by Black families against white policemen who killed their children. But that has not stopped the news media, Black talking heads and politicians from attempting to create a myth of the Obama era that placed the interest of the Black community at the core of his presidency.
Under the watchful and sycophantic guidance of the Black misleadership class, Obama was given eight years of the “look the other way” pass. Eight years later, Africans in the US are living at 1950 GDP levels, homes confiscated by Wall Street banks, lead poisoned in Flint, and children dodging rats the size of cats in Detroit public schools. But traditional Black leadership shamefully have used their political capital to stir up hysteria and propagate the Russian threat via McCarthy era tactics in hopes of creating a diversion and redirecting the light away from their betrayal of the community they claim to serve.
“A myth of the Obama era that placed the interest of the Black community at the core of his presidency.”
If the size and passion of the Women’s March is indicative of a collective realization in the Black and progressive community that the time to wake up from the eight-year coma is upon us, then the election of Trump is an opportunity to mobilize thousands who couldn’t be reached under the previous administration. Sadly, many Black parents enter the Trump era with children murdered by police with impunity throughout this country. The Democratic Party is counting on Obama amnesia and hoping that four years from now the new ground swell of activists will return the Dems to power. The larger question, however, is where were the white women and white progressives that we witnessed demonstrating after the election when Black youth were being gunned down in the streets across America? Where were the hats, money, media, buses, and entertainers when Trayvon, Michael, Sandra, Eric, John, Tanisha and Tamir were being hunted down and killed like animals?
In fact, the Women’s March didn’t focus on victims of the Obama/Clinton administration, such as environmentalist Tennie White. Who was Tennie White?
Tennie White was targeted by the Obama Administration because of her tenacious commitment to protecting her rural Mississippi community from deadly and cancerous chemical pollution. According to an Intercept article, Tennie is “the only person connected to two huge environmental contamination cases in Mississippi to ever serve prison time.” Tennie’s “crime,” was that she was a community activist and not a polluter. She paid a heavy price for attempting to save her community.
“Where were the hats, money, media, buses, and entertainers when Trayvon, Michael, Sandra, Eric, John, Tanisha and Tamir were being hunted down and killed like animals?”
One would have thought that Lisa Jackson, the first African-American Administrator of EPA, would have sought White out as a shinning example of grassroots environmental justice leadership. Citizen scientists or environmental activists are usually women who become involved in environmental matters out of a deep conviction and passion to save their families and their communities; personalities such as Erin Brockovich or the women of Love Canal are the
focus of movies and recipients of awards. Unlike her white counterparts, Tennie, was hunted down by the “Green” Enforcement Unit of the EPA and railroaded to prison. This is not the first time that the EPA has railroaded environmental and civil rights heroes to prison. Jon Grand, an employee at EPA’s Region 5 office was “set-up,” persecuted and railroaded to prison because he testified in my federal case against the EPA. Cases of this sort under Democratic regimes that trigger a “chilling effect” against EPA employees that blow the whistle on corruption is a part of how the Agency sends a clear message that it will not tolerate dissent within or outside of the Agency.
Tennie, owned an environmental lab and volunteered at an organization that she co-founded to assist Mississippians fighting the impact of pollution. She was convicted in 2013 of “faking laboratory test results and lying to federal investigator.” These are catch-all charges that fall in the category of ones such as defending “national security,” where anyone who is considered in opposition to power can find themselves at the mercy of those in power.
“Jon Grand, an employee at EPA’s Region 5 office was ‘set-up,’ persecuted and railroaded to prison.”
Tennie was contacted by a Black church after attempts by the pastor to get EPA or the state environmental department to pay attention to the reports of cancers and other environmentally triggered diseases proved futile. The church bought land from the notorious Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation, a chemical company known for employing Karen Silkwood. Karen Silkwood was poisoned by plutonium exposure after she blew the whistle on Kerr-McGee which at that time operated a nuclear power plant. According to the pastor, during renovations to the Black church, “ a strange, greasy jelly began to accumulate in the ditch. It looked like shiny beads, droplets that would ooze up from the soil. As the [pastor’s] crew dug deeper, more of it pooled in the dirt.” The pastor was assured by Kerr-McGee that the substance was not harmful and therefore renovations at the church could continue.
However, despite assurances from the corporation, members of the church community started complaining and presenting symptoms consistent with cancer and other illnesses, and the Church demanded answers. The site of the church was nearby a plant that had used creosote, an oily mixture made with coal tar, as well as a toxic compound called pentachlorophenol.
By the time Kerr-McGee technicians visited the site, it was clear that there was a serious problem. What Kerr-McGee and its technicians failed to inform the church members was that contact with creosote could cause kidney and liver problems, chemical burns, convulsions and even death. Nevertheless, none of these managers of corporate executives were charged with lying, cover-up or being an accessory to a crime.
“The EPA sends a clear message that it will not tolerate dissent within or outside of the Agency.”
Undaunted by a powerful corporation, she performed laboratory tests that confirmed the fears of church members. She clearly hoped that environmental agencies would provide additional research and testing for the community. Just the opposite happened. Instead of providing relief for the community and prosecuting corporate criminals, the EPA, the Department of Justice and State officials mounted an aggressive legal campaign against Tennie. Maureen O'Mara, the EPA special agent in charge of the Mississippi criminal enforcement program opined in a press release that Tinnie’s conviction “demonstrates that individuals who falsify environmental records and try to mislead the government will be prosecuted and held accountable.”
For a government that operates on lies and deceptions, the persecution of this activist must be seen as a part of a pattern and practice of criminalizing people who challenge corporate power.
Tennie White, on May 23, 2013 was found guilt by a jury and sentenced to 40 months in federal prison. She was released after 27 months to a halfway house at the Federal Correctional Institute in Tallahassee.
Unfortunately, the Tennie White story is not an anomaly. The Democratic Party would like to elicit political amnesia and the illusion that what happened to Tinnie White only happens under Republican administrations. But that analysis is devoid of truth. Our challenge is to build an independent movement, outside the domain of the duopoly that will force the powerful to stand down.
Dr. Marsha Adebayo is the author of the Pulitzer Prize nominated: No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet and serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com.