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The Past Is Present in Reparations

April 27, 2002

Peter Flaherty is correct that reparations lawsuits against private companies are another example of the out-of-control justice system ("Reparations Issue Is a Smoke Screen and a Shakedown," Commentary, April 22). The civil judicial system has become a de facto lottery.

Many unethical attorneys file meritless lawsuits in the hope the other side will settle rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend themselves. While we often read about such suits against large corporations, the "lawsuit industry" is hard at work legally extorting private citizens as well.

Most individuals are unaware that they can be bankrupted by defending against a frivolous and meritless lawsuit as easily as they can lose everything from a medical calamity. Until legislators and judges rein in the unethical attorneys who file such lawsuits we are all potential victims of this type of shakedown.

David Whitehead

Los Angeles

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Flaherty's remarks are representative of those of a (I'll go out on a limb here) white conservative male who fears for his very existence. While reparations needn't take the form of Deadria Farmer-Paellmann's choice--that of lawsuits against every company remotely affiliated with slavery--there needs nonetheless to be an effective program designed to give black Americans equal access to things that really matter (education, loans, home and business ownership, political power, etc.), not just lip service. We can no longer deny the truth and responsibility and the onus of reversing a 250-plus-year trend.

Generation after generation has added insult to injury by claiming "I didn't own any slaves," thus leaving none culpable for the state of black America today. It's long past time that the federal government issue a public apology for allowing slavery to flourish and for the years since, with its help, that have been less than kind to black Americans.

Until we as a nation begin healing the psychic scarring and social inequities that are slavery's insidious legacy, I'm afraid Flaherty ain't seen nothin' yet.

Ellen Brown

San Diego

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Hopefully, the defendant firms sued in the Brooklyn, N.Y., federal lawsuit alleging they profited from slavery will not be intimidated into settling. Unlike Japanese Americans and Jews who received reparations for personal wrongs experienced during World War II, no African American living today personally experienced slavery.

African Americans such as Shelby Steele and Juan Williams have spoken out against this attempt to promote a sense of victimization. Recent immigrants from such areas as Mexico, Central America and Southeast Asia come to this country, often from less-than-desirable circumstances, and prosper. But they don't have self-promoters preaching a racist, self-defeating philosophy of victimology to them.

Jim Hagar

Woodland Hills

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Flaherty's first sentence was, "Imagine getting sued for what your great-great grandfather did--legally--a century and a half ago." It seems that most white Americans are vehemently against reparations of any sort. If America had truly recognized our emancipation, say, a century and a half ago, we would have a national holiday commemorating the freeing of the slaves, say, like the Fourth of July.

Most black American taxpayers realize that no check will ever be in the mail for slavery reparations, let alone for the 100 years after--the black codes, the Jim Crow years, lynchings, burnings, castrations, segregation, degradation, stealing of property, oppression, poverty, redlining, profiling and discrimination. Will it take another 300 years before we realize we're all in this together?

Pamela A. Hairston

Washington

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