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Herbal medicine educator and founder of BIPOC-centered community garden files housing discrimination lawsuit against neighbor for racist and sexist harassment




June 5, 2024


(Syracuse, NY) – Today, CNY Fair Housing announces the filing of a federal housing discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a Tompkins County resident that has been subjected to persistent racial and sex-based harassment and intimidation by her next-door neighbor for more than two years. 


Amanda David, who is African American, moved into her home southeast of Ithaca in 2020. David, the creator of Rootwork Herbals, an organization dedicated to providing herbal medicine education and access to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (“BIPOC”) individuals, purchased the property not only as a home for her family, but also as space to create a community garden where BIPOC individuals could build community connections while growing both food and medicinal plants. David’s garden is run in conjunction with the Black Farmer’s Fund (“BFF”) as well as programming that David runs. 


However, as alleged in the complaint, the Davids’ neighbor, Robert Whittaker, Jr., who is white, has repeatedly hurled racist and sexist slurs and insults at David as she tends her garden and performs other chores around her home. Whittaker has also harassed and threatened David’s children. Whittaker has called David and her children the n-slur and “handouts” on many occasions and even threatened to attack one of David’s sons with a stick. As further alleged in the complaint, Whittaker has vandalized the Davids’ car twice, both by spray painting it with expletives and by forcing an object through the front grill and causing mechanical damage. 


As stated in the complaint, Whittaker continued to racially harass the David family despite the fact that he was arrested, criminally charged, and subject to a court order directing him to refrain from any and all contact with the David family. Only after he shot out a security light on the Davids’ property with a pellet gun was Whittaker arrested again and charged with additional criminal violations.


“My children and I should be able to feel safe and secure in our own home, but we don’t. Mr. Whittaker’s persistent and horrendously racist and sexist intimidation and harassment has made that impossible,” said plaintiff Amanda David. “His discriminatory behavior hasn’t just harmed my family, it has also harmed the entire community of BIPOC gardeners and herbal medicine practitioners that I work with. There are already so many barriers to the fields of agriculture and horticulture for people of color, and it makes me both discouraged and deeply sad that Mr. Whittaker’s harassment is yet another obstacle that I and the community I’m part of have to confront in our efforts to engage in this work,” David stated.


“Fair housing laws guarantee a right to every family to choose and enjoy their home free from discrimination,” said CNY Fair Housing’s Executive Director, Sally Santangelo. “The racial and sex-based harassment perpetrated against the David family by their neighbor is not just morally abhorrent, it’s also a flagrant violation of both federal and state law. CNY Fair Housing will do everything within its power to ensure that the David family’s rights are not violated further and that they can enjoy their home without living in constant fear of being harassed because of their sex or the color of their skin.” 


“Amanda and her family have endured continuous racial threats and violence, underscoring the urgent need for a safe environment where Rootwork Herbals, the People’s Medicine School, and Jane Minor BIPOC medicine garden can continue serving as a sanctuary for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities to connect with the land, their cultural heritage, and healing practices,” said Melanie Allen & Olivia Watkins, Co-Executive Directors, Black Farmer Fund. “The USDA Census indicates that over the last 5 years, the U.S. lost 7% of all farms, while Black folks lost nearly 13%, the highest decline among all racial groups. This is a direct result of the systemic racism Black farmers have faced for generations, encompassing everything from discriminatory lending practices to community violence and intimidation. Amanda represents a generation of Black land stewards who have long battled against both systemic and physical violence, impeding their ability to thrive and contribute to our food system.” 


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CNY Fair Housing is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1991, dedicated to eliminating housing discrimination, promoting open communities, and ensuring equal access to housing opportunities for all people in Central and Northern New York.


The mission of Black Farmer Fund is to nurture black community wealth & health by investing in black agricultural systems in the Northeast. We believe Black farmers, business owners, and land stewards should benefit equitably from financing, intellectual capital, technical assistance, networking, and public policies.


The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication.  Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Government.

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