free Edward Pinkney, an American prisoner of conscience

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.

So writes Jackie Miller in a thoroughgoing review of the case entitled “Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another Case of Political Persecution”.

Miller continues:

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. 1

Benton Harbor is one of the poorest cities in America. It is 94% black, 90% poor, and 70% unemployed (figures as of 2007 2). A place where “the criminal justice system operates to arrest, imprison, intimidate, control and marginalize” the citizens and where “governmental and educational institutions are characterized by infighting and petty corruption”:

In the fall of 2003, in a notorious incident, the Benton Harbor Chief of Police (who was not a certified law enforcement officer nor licensed to carry a gun), fired into the air in order to disperse a group of black youths who had gathered on a corner. Despite the fact that both the possession and the use of the gun were illegal under state and local law, nothing was done. 3

In this struggle for political and social justice, Edward Pinkney, in cooperation with his wife, Dorothy, founded the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO). But this was a battle that also meant locking horns with powerful Fortune 500 corporation Whirlpool – the largest manufacturer of home appliances in the world – which is headquartered in the city, and their “yes-man”, Mayor James Hightower:

Instead of supporting a tax that would make Whirlpool pay its fair share for city services and employees, the mayor signed a $3.2 million loan that the residents of Benton Harbor, one of the poorest cities per capita in the United States, would now have to pay. Meanwhile, Whirlpool pays absolutely no income taxes to the federal government or to Michigan. 4

In response, Pinkney organised a petition to unseat Hightower. The new Benton Harbor authority’s retaliation was as swift as it was high-handed:

On December 15 [2014], Rev. Edward Pinkney, a leader in the struggle for social and economic justice for the residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was sentenced to serve up to 10 years in prison, on the basis of thin circumstantial evidence that a few dates had been altered on a recall petition against the city’s mayor, James Hightower. The recall was prompted by the mayor’s continued support for tax evasion by the Whirlpool Corporation, the Fortune 500 company and $19 billion global appliance manufacturer, headquartered in Benton Harbor.

Click here to read the full article published by truthout back in December 2014.

Pinkney’s imprisonment for this misdemeanour is manifestly politically motivated and has since been legally challenged by the ACLU (further details below). Pinkney’s case is also supported by Judge Ferdinando Imposimato, Honorary President of the Supreme Court of Italy and a leading prosecutor in a number of high profile cases against the Mafia. Imposimato writes:

Whirlpool represents the largest appliance company in the Western world. Pinkney was indicted with the accusation of having forged the dates of a few signatures on petitions circulated to recall Mayor Hightower, a Whirlpool ally, and force him to justify his behavior in office before the voters through the device of calling an early election. Pinkney was sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment, despite the absolute absence of any proof against him. Normally, according to Michigan law, this entire matter would have been considered a misdemeanor, but in order to take down Pinkney, the head of the opposition in the city, this charge was inflated to the level of being an extremely serious felony. In addition, Pinkney’s trial was polluted by so many intrigues among the judge, the sheriff, the county officials, and a member of the jury who committed perjury, all of which makes Pinkney’s conviction invalid, and requires that it be struck down, in my opinion.

And Imposimato draws attention to the similarly “arrogant” approach taken by Whirlpool after it expanded its operations into Italy:

In recent years, Whirlpool has bought up large chunks of our splendid Italian appliance industry, including especially the appliance manufacturer Indesit. Now, Whirlpool executives have issued a proclamation from Benton Harbor announcing with absolute arrogance that they intend to wipe out about 2,000 jobs, which means more than a third of the current personnel of the Italian branch of Whirlpool. This mass firing would be a devastating blow for Varese, Caserta, Turin, Naples, Siena, and the other Italian cities which Whirlpool is targeting.

We have to ask ourselves if Whirlpool is trying to drive these Italian cities down to the same level of plantations of despair which we observe today in Benton Harbor. God forbid!

Click here to read Ferdinando Imposimato’s full statement made in June.

So why is Pinkney in prison? Well, to better understand the current situation in Benton Harbor we need to go back a few years to the introduction of so-called Financial Emergency Managers:

There is no place in the United States that more cruelly illustrates the intensifying conflict between corporate power and democracy than Benton Harbor, Mich., the first city to be placed under what some Michiganders call “financial martial law.”

In March [2011], Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder won approval of Public Act 4 (i.e., the Emergency Manager law), which permits him to declare that a city is in fiscal crisis and then to appoint an overseer with unlimited powers including the elimination of existing union contracts. Significantly, chief sponsors of Public Act 4 were State Rep. Al Pscholka, who was a former aide to Whirlpool heir U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, and also “a former vice president for one of the major entities involved in building the luxury golf development,” The Rachel Maddow Show reported last week.

That comes from an article written by Roger Bybee published nearly half a decade ago in April 2011. Bybee continues:

This month Harris [the Emergency Financial Manager appointed in early 2010] used the new powers granted to him by the newly passed law, declaring that elected bodies like the Benton Harbor City Council and School Board can meet but cannot make any decisions. The votes of elected bodies and Benton Harbor voters no longer count; the sole decider is Harris, who makes all decisions unilaterally.

State Rep. Fred Dunhal, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, views the takeover legislation as part of a national drive by a new crop of fiercely right-wing governors, exemplified by Snyder, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich.

Their goal is to virtually eliminate any forces that counter corporate domination of state and local government. “This is part of a national agenda,” said Rep. Dunhal. “It involves breaking the contracts of unions and interfering with the ability of cities to make their own decisions.” 5

Click here to read Roger Bybee’s full article.

To read more about the appointment of Financial Emergency Managers and the role of far-right governors, Rick Snyder in Michigan, Ohio’s John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker – who is a current candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination for 2016 – I direct readers to an earlier post on the same topic also published nearly five years ago and entitled “the corporate take-over of America – state by state”

You can also hear more about the scandal surrounding Michigan’s Emergency Managers, Mayor James Hightower and Whirlpool, as well as further details in the case of Rev. Pinkney from this interview with Pinkney’s spokesperson Larry Pinkney (no relation) on Abby Martin’s RT show Breaking the Set broadcast last January:

Today as Edward Pinkney languishes inside Lakeland Correctional Facility located in the well-named city of Coldwater, Michigan, he refuses to be silenced. Indeed, he is determined to turn his own incarceration to the advantage of others, using it as a platform to speak out against the inhuman conditions he and fellow inmates face on a daily basis.

And for how long will Pinkney remain imprisoned?

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.” 6

Click here to read a copy of the ACLU’s amicus brief in support of the motion for bond.

As his friend Jackie Miller sums up at the end of his piece  in Counterpunch:

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.

*

The timeline and links are all reprinted from Jackie Miller’s Counterpunch article:

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

Timeline of the Pinkney Case

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 dynasty.

June 2009: ACLU helps secure his release on bond, but he is prohibited 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” 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.

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, Mich.,” 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, November 2014.

Rev. Edward Pinkney Imprisoned for Fighting the Whirlpool Corporation,” by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik, 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, 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

*

1 From an article entitled “Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another case of Political Persecution” written by Jackie Miller, published in Counterpunch on August 13, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/13/why-is-rev-edward-pinkney-in-prison-another-case-of-political-persecution/ 

2 Figures taken from an article entitled “Travesties of Justice in a Black City in Michigan” written by BANCO, published in Counterpunch on April 21, 2007. http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/04/21/travesties-of-justice-in-a-black-city-in-michigan/  

3 Ibid.

4 From an article entitled “Rev. Edward Pinkney Imprisoned for Fighting the Whirlpool Corporation” written by Victoria Collier and Ben-Zion Ptashnik, published in Truthout on Decmeber 16, 2014. http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28050-whirlpool-corporation-sentences-edward-pinkney-to-prison-with-no-evidence

5 From an article entitled “Democracy vs. Profit is Central Issue in Takeover of Benton Harbor, Mich.” Written by Roger Bybee, published in InTheseTimes.com on April 26, 2011. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/7237/democracy_vs._profit_central_issue_in_benton_harbor_takeover

6 From an article entitled “Why is Rev. Edward Pinkney in Prison? Another case of Political Persecution” written by Jackie Miller, published in Counterpunch on August 13, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/13/why-is-rev-edward-pinkney-in-prison-another-case-of-political-persecution/

 

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