Activist faces felony prosecution for exposing racism and corporate greed
By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire
BENTON HARBOR, March 11, 2006 (PANW)--With his trial scheduled to begin on March 15, Rev. Edward Pinkney, leader of the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) in Benton Harbor, remained firm in his commitment to fight the four felony charges leveled against him by the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office in the southwest region of Michigan.
These charges stemmed from a successful recall campaign during 2005 when BANCO mobilized voters in Benton Harbor to remove City Commisioner Glenn Yarbrough. The vote was eventually overturned by Judge Paul Maloney, who also reinstated Yarbrough as Commissioner and Pinkney was later charged with paying $5 to individual citizens to cast their ballots for the recall. These charges could result in sentences of up to 20 years in prison.
Joined by over 100 supporters at the Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Pinkney declared that "we are fighting a real war here. We have to stand tall. If you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for your children and grandchildren."
Rev. Pinkney continued by noting that: "This is not just black and white. It is the haves vs. the havenots, the rich vs. the poor. They are using our money, tax money, to convict us."
This meeting was attended by residents of Benton Harbor as well as people from various cities around the state including Detroit, Flint, Highland Park and Battle Creek. In addition, people attended from Chicago, some ninety miles away, and also a special guest from Washington, D.C. All of the speakers at the meeting pledged their support for Rev. Pinkney maintaining that his prosecution by local officials is a direct result of his militant activism in Benton Harbor and Berrien County.
David Sole, President of UAW Local 2334 in Detroit and a representative of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), opened his speech by saying that "we are here today along with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) to fight this racist frame-up in this city."
Sole said that "there are so many issues we could discuss at this gathering including the war in Iraq, the money that is being used by the Pentagon that should go to support the cities, but all of this means nothing if they can frame fighters like Rev. Edward Pinkney."
"People here are not scared," Sole continued. "They rose up in response to the murder of a young African-American brother in 2003. The fear is grounded. We are here like the freedom riders in the South. We must give the people the courage they need to fight: free Rev. Pinkney," Sole concluded.
Following this call for support, Marian Kramer of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization from Highland Park excited the participants by pointing out that her organization is heavily involved in major battles in the Detroit area. "We have to let them know that if you touch Rev. Pinkney, you have touced us."
Kramer continued by stating that: "As long as I am living and got breath I will keep fighting. A line is drawn in the sand, either you are on our side or the other side. There are 8 black City Commissioners and a black Mayor. Just because they are African-Americans does not mean they are for us. They are giving Benton Harbor away."
Later Maureen Taylor, the chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, said that: "We have thousands of people in the room because everyone here is representing their block club and community. If there are people standing in the way of justice, we have to get rid of them. We should just take over. We have the capacity to build a house for everybody in this country. We have the capacity to build everything we need in this country and the world."
Rev. Pinkney leveled much criticism at Whirpool Corporation which dominates the politics and economics of the Berrien County area. He also criticized the local corporate media newspaper the "Herald-Palladium". The newspaper, which is heavily influenced by the dominant white power structure, has been extremely hostile to the plight of African-Americans in Benton Harbor and especially critical of Rev. Pinkney and BANCO.
Dalani Aamon, the CEO & Founder of The Harambee Radio Network from Washington, D.C. also addressed the meeting. "You may think what happens here is isolated.
However, everywhere I go you see the same thing. We have outlived our usefulness in this country, like the Native Americans we have been moved from our natural environment. The government has hijacked the country for its own reasons. They are not operating in anybody's interests, black or white."
Another local resident Belinda Brown praised the crowd for coming out for the meeting. "There is so much energy in this room. We are ready to fight. If you don't have any fight, just touch me because I have enough for both of us."
Brown said that "everyone who is here from Benton Harbor knows that this city is corrupt. They stole that recall vote. They said Yarbrough paid $10 to say Pinkney paid $5 for people to vote for the recall. When Pastor Pinkney was in jail he was telling young men not to plead guilty and to ask for a jury trial."
After Rev. Pinkney's arrest in 2005 on the four felony counts, Brown's husband came to bail him out of jail. According to Brown: "We bailed out Rev. Pinkney and shortly thereafter my husband was terminated from his job."
Undeterred Brown said of Pinkney: "I will take a bullet for you." Pointing out that "after they stole the recall they decided to build a $8 million golf course. We have got to pack the courthouse. Pastor Pinkney you are our future. You have helped a lot of poor people. They need that County jail to make us criminals, that is how they make their living."
Later veteran labor activist General Baker of Highland Park addressed the meeting: "This is the first time I have been to Benton Harbor in my life. I would always slow down on I-94 when I got to Berrien County."
Baker discussed some of the contemporary labor issues affecting people in the United States. He mentioned that 16 miners have been killed since the beginning of 2006. He reflected on his experience as someone who refused induction into the military in 1965 during the Vietnam War.
Nelson Peery of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (LRNA) talked about the history of persecution directed towards African-American leaders. "We old people may feel we have little to contribute but we can pass on lessons from the past. We are at war, here in Benton Harbor and New Orleans. They come first for our leaders: Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois were both persecuted by the state. And if the movement does not defend its leaders no one will be safe."
Peery concluded by saying that "when you defend Rev. Pinkney you defend justice." Quoting the old spirituals during the slave era he stated that "before I'd be a slave I'd be buried in my grave."
After the conclusion of the meeting at Hopewell Baptist Church, the particpants then lined up and marched through the community to downtown Benton Harbor. Surrounding the police and fire stations, the crowd called for justice for Rev. Pinkney and all oppressed people in the city.
Facts Point to Racist Frame-up
According to a document circulated during the March 11 meeting in Benton Harbor, the charges brought against Rev. Pinkney are fabricated: "A review of filings in the civil case show that all of the allegations against Pinkney--and almost all cases where problems with any votes were alleged--are contradicted by public records and/or sworn statements." The civil case was filed by Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry last March 17, 2005.
"Several people have contradicted the claim that Rev. Pinkney paid people $5 to vote for the recall. One story even had it that he and other recall backers were lining up people at the Benton Harbor soup kitchen and sending them in groups of five to the clerk's office to vote absentee--but former City Clerk N. Jean Nesbitt and her staff saw no such groups." Nesbitt was later fired as City Clerk.
"Even when pressed by sheriff's investigators, Brenda Fox stood by her statement that people recruited for the pro-recall campaign were paid $5, not to vote, but to hand out flyers. Did anybody deliver a flyer, they asked? Her reply: 'Yes. Honestly, yes," the factual document stated.
"Prosecutor Cherry's arguments to the court also claimed several people reported giving their absent-voter ballots to Pinkney to deliver to the clerk. However, Nesbitt's records clearly show the votes were received in the mail--and signatures appeared to match those in the master file of registered voters."
Benton Harbor was the focus of an urban rebellion in June of 2003 after a young man, Terrance Shurn, was killed by police when their vehicle ran him into an abandoned building. This blatant act of brutality sparked a three-day rebellion where state police were called in with tanks and other weapons to suppress the disorder led mainly by youth. BANCO took the lead then in calling for justice for Terrance Shurn, whose death was ruled accidental.
According to the factual document circulated at the meeting: "BANCO has also been working to bring jobs to the city of Benton Harbor, where unemployment rates are stuck in high double digits. And it has pushed the county Juvenile Center to recognize cases of workers abusing youths in the facility--and take action."
The statement goes on to say that: Pinkney and BANCO have led efforts to remove several 'public servants' who seem to be doing more to serve local economic powerhouse Whirlpool. Among the names they've named are Cherry, Yarbrough, and his brother Charles (the mayor at the time of Shurn's death). Pinkney believes Whirlpool (and its creation Cornerstone Alliance, which he calls 'Whirlpool in disguise') want to gentrify Benton Harbor. 'Lots of beachfront property, potential for corporate golf courses.' The problem: 'too many poor black people living in the area.' "
This trial will be monitored by people all over the United States. Pinkney has received inquiries and messages of support from people throughout Michigan, Illinois and other locations in the midwest. He reported that people have sent pledges of support from as far away as Utah and California.
Despite the charges filed against him, Rev. Pinkney remains optimistic about his potential for defeating the prosecution's case.
In order to contact BANCO people can call (269) 925-0001. Or they can e-mail: