[Pnews] Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another Case of Political Persecution
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
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
delivered his arrest warrant for alleged date changes on a petition,
blocking his street with trucks and police cars driving up and down the
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
*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
*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.
Benton Harbor BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization)
“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.
by Abayomi Azikiwe, April 2015.
“From Varese, Italy to Benton Harbor, Michigan: The Same Struggle
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
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the PPnews