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In April of 2010, approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the waters of the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded, severely damaging the local economy in an area dependent on fishing and tourism. A fund established by British Petroleum, operators of Deepwater Horizon, has almost a million claimants trying to share a $20 billion compensation pie.

That’s where Dick Gregory and activist Art Rocker come in. They are trying to help assist low-income claimants in getting their claims paid, but have met with difficulty in doing so. In September, Gregory was arrested in Washington, D.C. for participating in a protest that blocked BP’s administrative headquarters.

“I’ve never understood nothing about shrimp except the way it tastes,” Gregory told the Bay State Banner, a black newspaper in Boston. “I never put a face on the shrimp, but there’s people that work there. There’s maids that work in hotels, and when the hotel goes – and the whole tourist season got wiped out – those maids don’t get paid. And these are the people we’re talking about. These are the people we’re representing.”

According to an Associated Press report last year, the fund has paid $5.5 billion to 213,408 claimants. More than 300,000 other claimants have been denied compensation. Gregory and Rocker say that the claims of minorities have been largely ignored.

The British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim’s Compensation Fund’s government appointed administrator, Ken Feinberg, has been targeted by Rocker’s Florida-based Operation People for Peace.

The organization works with claimants who are awaiting compensation from fund. A ProPublica article from last spring suggested that compensation that has been awarded to companies, towns and parishes in the region were done so without due diligence, resulting in windfalls for some while others are still looking to collect.

Despite several actions by Operation People for Peace, and, they say, several meetings with Feinberg where promises to honor claims were made, there are still thousands of low-income claimants fighting for their money.

According to the Associated Press, there is fear in the region that much of the $20 billion will be returned to British Petroleum when the Gulf Coast Claims Facility ceases making payouts, which is supposed to happen in August 2013.

Click here for more information on the work of Operation People for Peace.

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