[Pnews] Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another Case of Political Persecution

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Aug 13 17:21:52 EDT 2015


  Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another Case of Political

by Jackie Miller <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/jacmil1197/>
<http://www.counterpunch.org/author/jacmil1197/>August 13, 2015

Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in prison?

One answer comes to mind from my very first meeting with Pinkney in 
2003. I drove from Lansing to Benton Harbor in southwest Michigan to 
witness a Berrien County Commissioners meeting soon after the Benton 
Harbor uprising. At that eye-opening introduction, white commissioners 
literally laughed at Black community members’ desperate appeals for 
justice for their young Black men, incarcerated or killed with impunity 
at a sickening rate. From this vignette straight out of the Jim Crow 
South, I left 90% white St. Joseph and crossed the bridge to Benton 
Harbor where well over 90% of the residents are Black and nearly half 
live in poverty according to census data <http://census.gov/>.

Standing outside City Hall, Pinkney said to me, “You know, they offered 
me a Cadillac. I said, no, thank you.” The power elite in the county 
tried to buy him off to shut him up. It didn’t work. This is one reason 
he sits in Lakeland state prison today.

He did not shut up then, and he has not shut up ever since. From prison, 
he puts pen to paper and writes pages <http://bhbanco.org> of 
condemnation of the corrupt, racist corporate-political-media 
establishment destroying his home community, the same one forcing him to 
eat prison food unfit for humans.

For years, he’s been preaching that this monstrous conglomeration of 
business interests and state authority is of a piece. Recently Pinkney 
from prison:

    The vicious, cowardly attack on democracy in Benton Harbor,
    Michigan, shows that the corporate power structure is determined to
    crush anyone that stands in its way. The Whirlpool Corporation and
    government joined together to destroy the people of Benton Harbor.
    We call it fascism. It is part of the process underway across
    America in various forms. The once stable working class of Benton
    Harbor was devastated by automation and globalization and the
    community began to resist. They have to contain the struggle.

Benton Harbor: the first city in Michigan subjected to the fascist rule 
of a state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager. What’s at stake? 
Whirlpool Corp., which raked in $177 million in profits last quarter 
(after expanding into Italy 
where it proceeded to lay off workers), wants to transform 
economically-devastated Benton Harbor into a private lakeshore 
playground for the wealthy. The vulture capitalists already succeeded in 
stealing part of a Benton Harbor public park for a Jack Nicklaus 
signature golf course next to a luxury condo development called Harbor 
Shores <http://www.workers.org/2012/us/occupy_pga_0607>. We can expect 
to see more theft of land and resources from immiserated communities 
elsewhere, as Whirlpool shows how easy it is to get full cooperation 
from state and local governments, despite opposition from the people.

Roger Bybee wrote 
“There is no place in the United States that more cruelly illustrates 
the intensifying conflict between corporate power and democracy than 
Benton Harbor.” Pinkney saw it coming. For at least ten years, he’s 
warned that Benton Harbor is “the testing ground to see what they can 
get away with.” What comes to Benton Harbor is coming to your 
neighborhood soon. And what’s coming he named fascism and genocide, 
specifically Black genocide by means of globalization, gentrification, 
neglect, New Jim Crow injustice, and naked violence.

Michigan civil rights attorney Hugh “Buck” Davis described it like this:

    In the 1960s, it was called Negro removal. In Bosnia, it was called
    ethnic cleansing. It could be called genocide, the removal of the
    minority population for the purpose of redevelopment of the land.
    That’s what’s happening in Benton Harbor and leading the resistance
    is Rev. Edward Pinkney.

Any one of the battles Pinkney’s fought against this establishment would 
be cause for the wealthy to celebrate his imprisonment. (Indeed, at a 
county Republican meeting 
the county clerk and sheriff both received a standing ovation when they 
announced Pinkney’s conviction). He’s more than a thorn in their side; 
he’s a bulldog with a grip on their heel, not about to let go if it 
kills him. He remains indomitable, unbreakable. What spirit, what love 
moves a person to this kind of courage?

The same spirit, the same love that moves him now to spend his time in 
the prison library helping other prisoners with appeals and parole 
hearings. When he called me last week his most urgent request was not on 
his own behalf—he asked me to research felony penalty minimums and 
maximums in five states and mail it to him as soon as possible. During 
his last prison term in 2008, overturned on appeal after a year of 
illegal imprisonment, he wasted no time organizing for basic needs, soap 
and toothpaste, for his fellow prisoners.

Why is Rev. Pinkney in prison? Too many reasons to count. The timeline 
below hits some highlights, but still doesn’t paint a full picture of 
what he does that makes his resistance and leadership so dangerous to 
the master planners of the establishment.

For over a decade, he spent nearly every day that Berrien County court 
was in session court-watching, taking notes, and helping defendants 
understand their rights. Each week for years he led a group of community 
activists from Benton Harbor to march on the courthouse in St. Joseph 
wearing the famous “Berrien County’s Most Wanted” T-shirts, listing the 
most corrupt and racist judges and other county officials.

After testifying at the trial, Marquette Coates 

    They threw my testimony in the garbage. They don’t want to hear you.
    Rev. Pinkney helps people, especially young Black men. They are
    giving all these young men all this time for petty crimes. Everyone
    I know is getting 20 years or more. What are the children going to
    do? The parents, women are crying over their sons. What preacher
    besides Rev. Pinkney is there standing with the people?

On one visit I found him at the public library. Every Tuesday he held 
“office hours” there, consulting with Benton Harbor residents about 
discrimination claims, legal problems, whatever problems with which he 
could lend a hand. I saw firsthand that his political work grows from 
deep roots and relationships in his community. For years, he organized 
monthly community-wide forums, bringing in outside speakers, with an 
emphasis on economic and political self-determination and standing up to 
police brutality and harassment.

I’d heard some observers question why Pinkney’s name figures so 
prominently in Benton Harbor activism, why we don’t hear more about 
other activists. I asked him and he answered that there are other 
grassroots leaders, but many people are too afraid to stand on the front 
line. Dorothy Pinkney lost her job because of her activism 
and others have faced similar retribution for organizing with BANCO 
(Black Autonomy Network Community Organization). Whirlpool rules the 
county and Pinkney is David to its Goliath. After Judge Sterling Schrock 
sentenced him to 2½ to 10 years last December, I heard a woman from 
Benton Harbor lament, “This is to keep all of us quiet. Now we have no 
one.” The necessity of intimidating the rest of the community is yet 
another critical reason he’s in prison right now, and explains why a 
SWAT team 
delivered his arrest warrant for alleged date changes on a petition, 
blocking his street with trucks and police cars driving up and down the 

Emma Kinnard 
delegate for the 3^rd Ward in Benton Harbor, said, “Benton Harbor is 
losing more and more ground. The school system is failing. Over at City 
Hall, things are manipulated. They’re giving off the land to the 
developers for nothing. With the arrests over the recall election, 
people are now afraid. They want people to say, ‘Don’t kick against the 
system.’ This is wrong.”

At his trial last October, I heard Prosecutor Mike Sepic question 
witnesses about Pinkney’s and their own participation in monthly 
meetings of the community group BANCO. This line of questioning was 
blatantly unconstitutional, apart from violating due process and 
Michigan Rules of Evidence—but it did give a partial résumé of Pinkney’s 
community organizing career. Sepic only proved that the charade of a 
trial was a New Jim Crow political lynching.

According to attorney Davis, “Given the thousands of irregularities in 
election petitions in Michigan every year, it’s clear that this is 
political prosecution in retaliation for successful community and 
electoral organizing. They like it until it looks like you are going to 
win. Two-and-a-half to ten years? He’s a political prisoner.”

These are some of the reasons he’s in prison today. The /means/ by which 
they put and keep him behind lock and key in prison clothes, eating 
prison food, coping with the threat of prison violence, are almost 
incidental. They are mundane tactics of white supremacy: frame-ups, 
false charges, wrongful arrest, tainted and coerced witnesses, false 
testimony, all-white juries, lying jurors, for starters. Local judges 
who fully live up to the racist criminal justice system in which they 
are entrenched. Judges and prosecutors who violate the law, due process, 
constitutional rights—not to mention morality, reason, and common 
sense—with the only consequence being further reward for their gross 
misconduct. They follow this with excessive penalties, outrageous parole 
conditions, house arrest, electronic tether, excessively high bond or 
denial of bond altogether.

In 2009, Judge Dennis Wiley prohibited 
<https://solidarity-us.org/node/2233> Pinkney from attending /his own 
appeal hearing/ when he was unable to raise the $10,000 bond in time and 
remained under house arrest. All this for alleged non-violent crimes 
from someone who always met all conditions of parole. You have to see 
Berrien County court in operation 
to believe the arrogance and disregard for human life. It’s a Twilight 
Zone where judges can say anything with impunity. According to court 
observers, Berrien County judges have said, “I know you’re innocent and 
I’m going to put you away” and “I don’t care if there’s no law for this; 
I’m going to make one up.”

On August 5, a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeals 
in Grand Rapids ruled 2-1 against Pinkney’s motion for bond pending 
appeal. Perhaps most insulting, the prosecution argued that Pinkney’s 
release would “undermine public confidence not only in the electoral 
process…but also in the justice system itself.” Of course, the truth is 
that the “justice system itself” is being used to subvert the electoral 
process. Interpreting the prosecution and judge’s arguments becomes an 
Orwellian word game.

ACLU of Michigan filed an /amicus curiae/ brief in support of the bond 
motion stating that the conviction is “almost certain” to be reversed. 
Pinkney has already spent over seven months removed from his family and 
community. It could be many months more by the time the appeal is heard 
and decided. Pinkney will have “paid a debt to society he didn’t owe.”

We owe a debt to Pinkney. His courage and leadership have slowed, though 
not yet prevented, the wholesale destruction of a community of 11,000. 
The people of Benton Harbor need him back, and we need him out of prison 
where he can remain healthy and continue his warrior work.

Free Rev. Pinkney Petition 

*Boycott*: Whirlpool, Maytag, Amana, and Kitchen Aid

*Send letters*: Rev. Edward Pinkney, No. 294671, Lakeland C.F., 141 
First St., Coldwater, MI 49036

*Donations*: BANCO <http://bhbanco.org>

*2001* 	Pinkney begins court watching, leading weekly marches on Berrien 
County courthouse, and speaking out against police brutality and 
wrongful arrests.
*June 2003* 	Benton Harbor uprising 
after police break up a peaceful vigil for Terrance Shurn, killed in a 
police chase. BANCO organizes marches and protests.
*Fall 2004 – 2005* 	Pinkney leads successful campaign to recall 
pro-Whirlpool city commissioner Glen Yarbrough. Boycott Whirlpool 
campaign begins.
*April 2005* 	Prosecutor sues City Clerk Jean Nesbitt to set aside the 
recall. Nesbitt loses her job and Pinkney is arrested, charged with 
improperly possessing four absentee ballots (a felony). A second recall 
election is held and Yarbrough wins.
*2006* 	Trial with mixed-race jury results in a mistrial due to hung jury.
*2007* 	Pinkney retried, this time with an all-white jury, found guilty, 
sentenced to house arrest and probation. Key prosecution witness avoids 
prosecution on unrelated criminal charges. Pinkney begins appeal.
*2008* 	Pinkney criticizes the trial judge in an article, quoting 
Deuteronomy; another judge rules that he threatened the trial judge by 
virtue of his special relationship with God and violated probation; 
Pinkney sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison.
*2008* 	From prison, Pinkney runs for U.S. Congress on the Green Party 
ticket, challenging Republican Rep. Fred Upton, heir to the Whirlpool 
*June 2009* 	ACLU helps secure his release on bond, but he is prohibited 
<https://solidarity-us.org/node/2233> from attending his own appeal 
hearing when unable to immediately raise $10,000 and Judge Wiley keeps 
him under house arrest. Pinkney’s parole violation conviction is 
overturned on appeal, but he is denied a new trial for the election 
fraud charges and completes his probation on electronic tether at a 
personal cost of $105/week.
*March 2010* 	Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appoints Michigan’s 
first Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) to rule Benton Harbor.
*2008-2010* 	Whirlpool’s front group takes Benton Harbor’s lakefront 
Jean Klock Park for a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, part of the 
Harbor Shores multi-million dollar development. Planning for the 
takeover began as early as 1992. Harbor Shores also steals water without 
permit while EFM raises household water rates.
*May 2012* 	BANCO organizes “Occupy the PGA 
<http://www.workers.org/2012/us/occupy_pga_0607/>” protest at Harbor 
Shores Senior PGA Championship.
*November 2013 * 	Pinkney and another petitioner turn in signatures in 
favor of holding an election to recall Mayor James Hightower. Hightower 
opposed a city income tax which would have brought in much-needed 
revenue from Whirlpool, Inc., to Benton Harbor. Whirlpool pays no 
federal or state tax, instead receives federal tax credits.
*April 2014* 	SWAT team 
and 30 officers surround Pinkney’s home to deliver arrest warrant.
*May 2014* 	Protest of Harbor Shores Senior PGA Championship carries on, 
despite Pinkney under house arrest on $105/wk electronic tether, 
prohibited from computer use.
*April-Sep. 2014* 	Court stays the vote to recall Mayor Hightower due to 
questions about signatures. Later another judge allows the vote to 
proceed as there are sufficient signatures. Then Michigan Court of 
Appeals and Supreme Court stay 
the election anyway.
*Aug. 2014* 	Pinkney files 
to recall County Clerk Sharon Tyler who illegally turned over petitions 
to sheriff’s deputy.
*Oct. 2014* 	Pinkney convicted by an all-white jury on charges of 
altering dates on the Hightower recall petition. No evidence, direct or 
circumstantial, that a crime was committed was presented, much less that 
Pinkney committed any. (Defense request for a venue other than the one 
Pinkney has protested since 2001 denied.)
*Dec. 2014* 	Judge Schrock sentences Pinkney to 2½ to 10 years. Over 130 
letters of support are ignored. For 30 days, Pinkney is quarantined 
in deplorable conditions.
*Feb. and April 2015* 	Schrock twice denies bond pending appeal and 
orders Pinkney to pay $1,736.17 in restitution to Mayor Hightower for 
“economic and psychological damage.”
*Aug. 2015* 	Court of Appeals rules 2-1 against motion for bond pending 
appeal. Decision will be appealed to Michigan Supreme Court.

*Additional reading:*

Benton Harbor BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization) 
Blog. <http://bhbanco.org>

“Travesties of Justice in a Black City in Michigan 
by BANCO, April 2007.

“Whirlpool — The Gentrifier Of Benton Harbor 
by Dorothy Pinkney, March 2009.

“Democracy vs. Profit is Central Issue in Takeover of Benton Harbor, 
by Roger Bybee, April 2011.

“Rev. Pinkney: Why I’m charged with election fraud 
by Rev. Edward Pinkney, Oct. 2014.

“Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Michigan 
by Abayomi Azikiwe 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/author/abayomi-azikiwe/>, November 2014.

“Rev. Edward Pinkney Imprisoned for Fighting the Whirlpool Corporation 
by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik 
<http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/49635>, Dec. 2014.

“National defense campaign building for Rev. Edward Pinkney 
by Abayomi Azikiwe, Dec. 2014.

“Free Political Prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney, Convicted with no evidence 
by an All White Jury,” 
by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik 
<http://www.truth-out.org/author/itemlist/user/49635>, Feb. 2015.

“Civil rights activist denied appeal bond 
by Abayome Azikiwe, March 2015.

“Racism and Police Misconduct: African-American Michigan Community 
Leader Rev. Pinkney Denied Appeal Bond 
by Abayomi Azikiwe, March 2015.

“Berrien County Court Continues Racist Campaign Against Rev. 
Edward Pinkney 
by Abayomi Azikiwe, April 2015.

“From Varese, Italy to Benton Harbor, Michigan: The Same Struggle 
Against Whirlpool 
by Webster G. Tarpley, June 2015.

“Letter From Political Prisoner Rev. Edward Pinkney 
by Rev. Edward Pinkney, July 2015

/*Jackie Miller* lives in Michigan. /

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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