Rev. Edward Pinkney
Rev. Edward Pinkney
Rev. Edward Pinkney
Rev. Edward Pinkney

By Abayomi Azikiwe

Berrien County?s courthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan was filled with people from various cities across the Midwest region on June 5. People were there to attend a hearing that would determine if a trial judge pursues yet another case involving Rev. Edward Pinkney.


Despite pleas from the defense lawyer Tat Parish, Rev. Pinkney was bound over for trial beginning on July 21 for alleged five felony counts of forgery. The Benton Harbor activist has been under house arrest since late April when he turned himself in to the Sheriff?s office the day after several law-enforcement agencies surrounded his home when he was not there seeking to serve a warrant for his arrest.


The activist has been on a tether and denied access to the internet as well as his weekly radio broadcasts for six weeks. These restrictions were removed at the hearing and Rev. Pinkney will be allowed to travel and engage in his ecumenical and public affairs.


Rev. Pinkney is a longtime activist in Benton Harbor who has opposed the racism within the judicial and political structures in this southwest Michigan town and surrounding county. Similar to his 2007-2008 persecution by authorities in Berrien County, prosecutors are saying that the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) leader ?forged? dates on petitions aimed at holding a recall election against Mayor James Hightower on May 6.


As a result of the criminal investigation and subsequent charging of Rev. Pinkney, the election to remove Hightower was stayed. In 2007, Rev. Pinkney and others had also organized a recall election against two city commissioners in Benton Harbor when he was charged with vote tampering, railroaded through the courts, placed under house arrest and later imprisoned for one year for exercising his right to free speech within the media.


A national campaign in his defense during 2008-2009 brought about the Michigan Appeals Court reversal of the sentencing of him to 3-10 years in prison. Since 2010, Rev. Pinkney has been organizing against the wholesale political and economic dictatorship now in place in Benton Harbor and surrounding Berrien County.


The previously public Jean Klock Park has been transformed into a signature golf course and lakefront tourist attraction while the majority African American population is being systematically forced out of the city. At the same time repression escalates against any opponents to the corporate-driven agenda guided by Whirlpool corporation and land speculators.


The Case Against Rev. Pinkney Is Highly Political


Throughout the state of Michigan majority African American municipalities and now others are under attack from the governor?s office in Lansing along with his right-wing cohorts who dominate both the house and senate. Many cities, including Detroit, are under emergency management where the fundamental rights of self-rule and due process have been abrogated.


Although Benton Harbor is now out from under emergency management, the corporate entities and their representatives in government are firmly in control. Electoral rules within the state of Michigan allow for the recall of public officials if language is approved for a petition that garners sufficient valid signatures.


The effective use of the recall process has been rare indeed. Many recall campaigns do not succeed as a result of the lack of signatures and challenges to the validity of petitions submitted to city clerk offices which regulate the process.


Nonetheless, Rev. Pinkney and others have been successful in the process over the last few years. Despite these ongoing campaigns, the ultimate conclusion of holding an actual recall vote has been subverted by the prosecutors and courts in Berrien County.


During the June 5 hearing on whether Pinkney would be bound over for trial on felony charges, there was no concrete evidence presented by prosecutors to suggest that the activist actually changed petitions submitted to the election officials in the County. This issue was raised in a legal memorandum to presiding Judge Sterling Schrock requesting that no charges be filed due to lack of evidence.


The memorandum submitted by Rev. Pinkney?s defense lawyer Tat Parish asserted that ?Our case is one where there is no evidence at all that the acts constituting a crime were in fact committed by Rev. Pinkney. There is no physical evidence that the defendant was the person who changed any petition.?


This document continues noting ?There is no expert testimony that the defendant was the one who changed any petition. There are no confessions. There are no witnesses to show that the defendant committed the acts that constitute the crime.?


Later Rev. Pinkney through his attorney said that ?In short, the crime consists of the alterations of documents and there is no evidence that the defendant committed those acts. Nor is there any evidence that would exclude the very real possibility that others committed the acts or that the defendant was the only person in a position to commit the acts.?


Consequently, supporters of Rev. Pinkney and BANCO feel that the carrying out of this prosecution is designed to silence opposition to the blatant racism and class oppression in Berrien County. Delegations from Indiana, New York and other states have come into the area to express solidarity with the Berrien County activist.


Organizations to Build Defense Campaign


With travel restrictions lifted, Rev. Pinkney is committed to working for his exoneration in this case. Various organizations have come out in his support demanding that the charges be dropped.


Atty. Parish says that he will appeal the decision by Judge Schrock to bind over his client for trial. The proceedings have been placed on a fast track by the judge who is only allowing six weeks for preparation on the part of the defense.


Already in Detroit, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and the Michigan Emergency Committee for War and Injustice (MECAWI) have passed a resolution in support of Rev. Pinkney calling for the charges to be dropped. Both organizations will extend an invitation for the Benton Harbor activist to address one of their upcoming meetings.


The People?s Tribune newspaper based in Chicago has issued a statement of support and is calling on activists to rally to Rev. Pinkney?s defense. The June issue of the newspaper has a feature story on the case.


Many activists feel that the developments in Benton Harbor and Berrien County represent a microcosm of race relations prevalent throughout the state. Although a purported recovery of the urban areas is being championed by the corporate media, the actual conditions throughout the state for African Americans, other oppressed groups and working people in general are worsening.


With statewide and mid-term Congressional elections coming up in August and November, both the Republican and Democratic parties are seeking the votes of working people. However, no real political program is being put forward that addresses the need for jobs, housing, health care, quality education and the right to self-determination and democracy for people within the distressed municipalities.


At every turn grassroots efforts aimed at fighting against economic exploitation and institutional racism are being thwarted through the dictatorial practices by the state at the aegis of the corporations and banks whose policies have drained the cities across Michigan. In a recent report by the Michigan Municipal League it documents the theft of over $6 billion in public funds by the state that are being withheld from the cities.


It appears that only an independent political movement targeting the corporations, banks and their political allies in government can bring about any hope for change. The outcome of the struggles in Michigan will have an important impact on other developments throughout the country where similar problems are in existence from California to New York.


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