Did USDA Official Shirley Sherrod Deserve to Be Ousted on Racism Charges?

After a taped speech to the NAACP, the Georgia official resigns

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Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart has claimed another scalp. After posting a video of black U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod saying she didn't do everything she could for a white farmer, Sherrod has been ousted from her position. The USDA rural development director for Georgia made her remarks at an NAACP banquet over 20 years ago:

I was struggling with the fact that so many black people had lost their farmland, and here I was faced with having to help a white person save their land. So I didn't give him the full force of what I could do. I did enough.

In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Sherrod's resignation. "There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person," Vilsack said. Did Sherrod deserve to be forced out? After the video, commentators weigh in and Sherrod defends her remarks:

  • Sherrod's Story Is Unfortunate, writes Ed Morrissey at Hot Air:

If Sherrod had a different ending for this story, it could have been a good tale of redemption. She almost grasps this by initially noting that poverty is the real issue, which should be the moral of the anecdote. Instead of having acted on this realization — and perhaps mindful of the audience — Sherrod then backtracks and says that it’s really an issue of race after all. It certainly was for Sherrod, who admits that “I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do.” Notice that the audience doesn’t exactly rise as one to scold Sherrod for her racism, but instead murmurs approvingly of using race to determine outcomes for government programs.

  • She Abused Her Position, says Ben Jealous, President of the NAACP: “Racism is about the abuse of power. Sherrod had it in her position at USDA. According to her remarks, she mistreated a white farmer in need of assistance because of his race. We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers... Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.”

  • We Need to See the Whole Tape, insists Jay Bookman at the Atlantic Journal-Constitution: "She might very well have earned a firing. But I’d like to see that rest of that video as well, because at the point it abruptly ends, she appears to be saying that it’s wrong to think in terms of black and white, that she came to see things as more accurately divided between poor and rich than by race... So let’s see the rest of the tape, Big Government. Was Sherrod giggling among black folk about the time she put it to the white man, as the leaked excerpt suggests, or was the tape a deceptively edited excerpt of a longer story about getting beyond the issue of race, as she claims? Let’s see the tape. The evidence apparently exists to settle the question. Cough it up."

  • Sherrod's Defense  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Marcus Garner gets the former official on the phone:

Shirley Sherrod told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that the two-minute, 38-second video posted online Monday by biggovernment.com and reported on by FoxNews.com and the AJC completely misconstrued the message she was trying to convey...Sherrod said what online viewers weren't told in reports posted throughout the day Monday was that the tale she told at the banquet happened 24 years ago -- before she got the USDA job...

Sherrod said the short video clip excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with him and his wife.

"And I went on to work with many more white farmers," she said. "The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it's about the people who have and the people who don't. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.