Tag Archive | "Ramapough Indians"

Mann vs. Ford: The Denouement

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I have a personal saying, “There is no justice in this world, but there is the law.”   But after seeing the staggering denouement of the Mann vs. Ford case, I am no longer confident in the law.  I’d promised to recap that denouement for you, as per the HBO film that aired last Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

Here goes:

1.  After reviewing a wide body of evidence, our judicial system deemed that the Ramapough Native Americans were within their rights to take Ford Motor Company to court.   But that’s where things got hairy.

2.  Because of the number of plaintiffs, 650 families in all, the judge indicated that it would take a good decade to try this as a single, class action case.  He also indicated that the plaintiffs, who are not wealthy people, might run out of money needed to pay their legal fees long before that.  He intimated that Ford might not want to sink that much money and time into the case, as well.

3.  The judge then made an official recommendation, which would have been enforced, that the case be divided into 6 or 7 separate cases, all tried simultaneously in different courtrooms, under the same roof.  Reason?  The expert witnesses needed to testify could literally go from one hearing to another in a single day, thus reducing the timeframe that would have been required to try the case either as a single case, or as multiple cases running sequentially (one after the other, chronologically).   A date in April of 2008 was then set for the trials to begin.

4.  The very day on which the trials were scheduled to begin Ford Motor Company posted a huge reduction in the value of their stock.  Despite the Stock Market crash of seven months prior, Ford’s stock was plodding along at a somewhat depressed but fairly even pace.  In other words, there were no serious dips in the value of their stock prior to the Ramapoughs’ lawsuit going live in court.

Was this sudden dip on the day of a trial truly a coincidence?  Did someone at Ford lie about the value of that stock?  Or did it go higher? Was someone at the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) paid off to look away?  If you think this is paranoia, read on.

5.  The case never did go to trial.  Ford offered the plaintiffs a settlement, as did the township of Ringwood, New Jersey, which approved the building of the Ford plant.  Ringwood kicked in approximately $1.5 million, bringing the total, with the lion’s share paid by Ford, to a “whopping” $12 million.  Divide $12 million by 650 families, and what do you get?  Not much, that’s what you get.

6.  The Ramapoughs were unhappy with the amount offered but accepted it because … based upon Ford’s earnings, and the numerous public reports that followed of the automotive giant’s financial tumble, the Ramapoughs had assumed that the company would go bankrupt, thereby leaving them with no restitution whatsoever.

7.  The $12 million was divided as equitably as possible among the surviving Ramapoughs, as per their own criteria (those who had suffered the worst received the most amount of money).  The highest per-family payout was $8K.  Considering that the average cost of a modest funeral in New Jersey is about $10K, that wasn’t even enough to buy the dead.  And, over the five-year span that it took to film the meat of this grueling and ultimately insulting process, 30 more Ramapoughs had died from cancers linked to the toxins on their land.

8.  Ford never apologized.  In lieu of an apology, which would have indicated their guilt, their legal counsel read a 3-sentence statement in court, a statement that basically exonerated the corporation from any wrongdoing. The $12 million was the end of it: Ford made no attempt to clean up the devastation they had wrought.

9.  A year after the settlement was offered and accepted, Ford posted profits of $2.7 billion.

A year later, in 2010, in the throes of a tanking U.S. economy, Ford Motor Company posted profits of $6.6 billion, the highest income earned in 11 years!

Is this justice?

And do you even care?

If not, you should.  It is now estimated that 74 million Americans live within dangerous proximity to Superfund sites.

What can you do about it?

Not much, apparently, except move away and hope for the best, if you’re already living on or near a Superfund site.  Not even the government is on your side.  This was the largest case of its kind in the United States of America and it was a travesty, a miscarriage of justice.

What you can do is examine very closely those to whom you give your votes.  Look closely at the performance of the politicians you back and trace their allegiances.  In other words, determine in whose corporate pockets your politicians live, and in whose they don’t.  Bring pressure to bear upon them, as is your right as an American citizen.  Look closely, also, at any huge institution in which you may invest; i.e., purchase a high-ticket item, such as car or a home.

Don’t lose hope: it is your right to protest peacefully and to sue another party for wrongdoing.  It’s your right to post information on the Internet and garner support for your cause.  It’s your right, and that of your loved ones’, to live on clean land and drink clean water.

Related Articles:

Mann v. Ford: An HBO Documentary

A Blind Eye: The Plight of the Ramapoughs

A Blind Eye: The Plight of the Ramapoughs

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When I was asked last week to craft an article to help launch the upcoming HBO documentary, Mann vs. Ford, I had no idea how hard my heart was about to be wrenched, or how far my head was about to be blown.

If you know someone who has recorded this documentary, I strongly urge you to view it, absorb it, and understand how it impacts us all, not just a group of Native Americans who have been living under these untenable conditions for more than 40 years.  It’s a long documentary, a two-hour commitment on your part, and well worth the investment of your time.  I myself have another 25 minutes left to complete my viewing, as I can only watch so much in a single sitting, for it has affected me to that degree.

The case underpinning Mann vs. Ford centers upon a section of New Jersey that I have long admired and skirted many times, decades before I ever moved to the so-called Garden State.   To the uneducated eye, the area remains beautiful; in the autumn, in particular, it is breathtaking.  But what God has wrought, man’s greed and utter disregard for his fellow humans has made ugly and deadly.

Witness the facts as presented in the series and recapped here: facts based upon documentation from the Ford Motor Company, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses/victims, and the findings of medical experts and respected, independent scientists.

1.  In 1966, Ford Motor Company purchased 900 acres of a once-pristine area in the Ramapough (A.K.A. Ramapo) Mountains of Northern New Jersey. There, they built an automotive manufacturing plant.  The area was so large that they allowed the Native American Ramapoughs, who had occupied that land for centuries, to continue living there.

2.  In 1967, Ford began dumping toxic waste — the detritus of its manufacturing processes — into three designated dumpsites in the area, including dormant mineshafts (the place had once been a large mining community).  In 1967, the EPA had not yet emerged as a watchdog for human health and safety, so the dumping continued unmitigated and often secretively, in the wee hours of the night.  Mass quantities of toxic waste (thousands of pounds daily) were dumped not only into the three designated sites, but into other areas as well.

Fly over the Ramapo Mountains and you will see, lying incongruously and stealthily among the green trees and shrubs, dried lakes of bright blue, red, and tan.  These are the waste products of paint whose colors, decades later, are as vibrant as the day they were applied to the cars churned off the assembly line.

3.  What you won’t see, unless you look and tread very carefully, is how the paint, discarded metals, and other waste infiltrated and tainted so very many other areas: how the toxins are now literally part of the landscape, how they have seeped into a reservoir whose water is consumed by than 2 million people, and how they impacted every level of the food chain.

What you also won’t see is the lethal dioxin that was burned off in the Ford Motor Factory, leaving a deadly dust that carpeted the land and all that lived upon it.

4.  Legal counsel for the Ramapough Native Americans, who are located in both Tennessee and California, have failed to find a single case of this magnitude in our nation. What I mean is, there exists no other case of toxic dumping at such tremendous levels affecting so very many people over more than four decades.

5.  In a normal class action suit involving tort, 15% to 20% of the population in question has been adversely affected by the party they are suing.   But with the Ramapoughs, roughly 95% of the population has been affected!

One area in particular is known as “Cancer Row.”  Every house here has been visited by cancer and in many cases, by The Grim Reaper.  No individual lives into his or her 70s in this area, which, prior to Ford’s presence, supported a healthy population of elderly people.

Children, adolescents, and adults are routinely diagnosed with multiple cancers; many have died as a result.  Those who are still on this Earth are not exempt from a myriad of other health issues, including but not limited to gall stones the size of which seasoned medical professionals have never before seen, skin ailments requiring surgical excising of large areas of one’s skin, and unexplained bleeding from the throat, eyes, ears, and mouth.

Stumped, local doctors advised one 29-year-old woman that she suffered from lupus and all manner of other diseases; all were incorrect diagnoses. Finally diagnosed properly by healthcare professionals in New York City, the woman learned that she suffers from heavy metal poisoning.  A newlywed, she was also counseled not to try to conceive, as “it won’t live.”

6.  On seven separate occasions, Ford Motor Company was contacted about this situation.  They had declined to be interviewed for the documentary, which speaks volumes.  Their representatives claim that the company has taken the necessary remedial steps, but the evidence says otherwise. That evidence includes dioxin dust found and confirmed as dioxin in the attics of the Ramapough people as well as the paint, and other heavy metals that the company dumped without conscience into this area.

7.  The EPA was brought in, long before this documentary was filmed, but there has been no respite from that quarter.  The EPA’s line is that the toxins have all been removed, and that the area is now safe.  Both are blatant lies.  Whether this is incompetence on the part of the EPA or whether money greased certain palms, we don’t yet know.

8.  Ford has published a number of articles concerning the character of the Ramapough Native Americans.  In a nutshell, these people have been painted as one step above Cro-Magnon Man: another out and out lie. The tone of every one of these articles, all published after the Ramapoughs had became increasingly vocal, is insidious and frightening.  Ford’s view of these people is that they are disposable, and that they are not to be believed.  If one group of Americans is “disposable” to Corporate America, then we are all disposable.  None of us is safe.

9.  In desperation, and having no other recourse, the Ramapoughs and their tireless, dedicated attorneys have mounted a case against Ford Motor Company.

As I’ve said, I don’t yet know how the story ends, but I promise to return, to report it to you.

The plight of the Ramapoughs, and the blind eye that they have received from a mega-corporation and our own government is not simply “their problem.”  If it can happen in the once unspoiled Ramapough Mountains of New Jersey, it can happen anywhere.  It can happen in my community.  It can happen in yours.

Related Articles:

Mann vs. Ford: An HBO Documentary


Mann vs. Ford: The Denouement


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