Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Benton Harbor's Struggle Continues: Rev. Pinkney Given Five Years Probation in Political Frame-up

Rev. Pinkney Given Five Years Probation in Political Frame-up

Benton Harbor leader remains under house arrest until judge decides conditions of sentence

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

BENTON HARBOR, MI, 14 May (PANW)--Today's sentencing hearing at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph's, Michigan, located in the southwest region of the state, for Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers'leader, Rev. Edward Pinkney, resulted in the activist being given five years probation for his conviction on five counts of felonious and misdemeanor fraud.

Pinkney, who was allowed to walk free from the courtroom after the hearing, faced the potential of up to twenty years in prison.

The charges brought against Pinkney derived from a sucessful recall election in 2005, when Glenn Yarbrough, a Benton Harbor City Commissioner, was voted out of office as a result of a political campaign led by BANCO. Supporters of BANCO and Rev. Pinkney believe that the charges were politically motivated because of the activist's outspoken work against officials in Berrien County.

Over 100 supporters of Rev. Pinkney attempted to enter the Berrien County Courtroom for the hearing, however, because of lack of space, dozens were turned away. The people who could not enter the courtroom joined an ongoing picket line outside which called for the release of Pinkney and the overturning of the convictions.

Attorney Hugh Davis emerged from the sentencing hearing saying that presiding Judge Alfred M. Butzbaugh wanted another seven days to decide the final terms of the sentence imposed on Pinkney. The defense team has repeatedly pointed to the numerous constitutional violations against Rev. Pinkney during the process the prosecution and of the jury selection.

All potential African-American jurors were disqualified resulting in Rev. Pinkney being judged by an all-white jury in Berrien County.

BANCO leader remains under house arrest

Even though Rev. Pinkney was allowed to walk out of the courtroom today in St. Joseph's, he remains on a tether and under house arrest. Pinkney is not allowed to leave his residence without the permission of the court. He cannot even walk out into his yard without being in violation of the conditions set down by the judge in the aftermath of his conviction earlier this year.

On Sunday, Rev. Pinkney and Attorney Hugh M. Davis were interviewed over the "Fighting for Justice" program broadcast weekly on WDTW, 1300AM, a Detroit-area affiliate of Air America Radio. During the interview, Pinkney was constantly interupted by noise and distortion over his landline telephone. Eventually he had to call the station again over a cell phone so that the interview could be conducted with program co-hosts Ron Scott and Sandra Hines.

The terms under which Rev. Pinkney is being confined is reminiscent of the "banning orders" carried out under the former aparthied regime in South Africa. For political reasons, activists were brought to trial on trumped-up charges, and if not sent to prison or the gallows, are confined to their homes and prohibited from participating in political activities.

Rev. Pinkney was tried by an all-white jury in Berrien County, a community that has a long history of racial tensions and violence. In 2003, African-American youth rose up in rebellion in the aftermath of the death of a motorcyclist who was chased down by Berrien County police in Benton Harbor.

BANCO took the lead in seeking justice for the police brutality victim and organized a region-wide demonstration from the predominately African-American city of Benton Harbor across the bridge to the exclusively affluent majority white St. Joseph's, the seat of Berrien County and its power structure.

Pinkney was a constant thorn in the side of the authorities in the County, by charging the police, the political officials and the courts with racism and corruption. When BANCO organized the successful recall in 2005 against Commissioner Yarbrough, who Defense Attorney Hugh M. Davis called "the major lackey of the power structure in the city", the courts intervened to overturn the results of the recall elections.

Pinkney was initially charged and put on trial in 2006 with the proceedings ending in a hung jury. The refiling of charges against the BANCO leader demonstrated the determination of the authorities in Berrien County to teach the activist a lesson in small town politics.

The Whirlpool Corporation has been a major employer in Berrien County and surrounding areas. As a result of downsizing and outsourcing, there is mass unemployment in Benton Harbor within the African-American community. Pinkney and BANCO has also called for a boycott of Whirlpool products as well as the goods distributed by other companies allied with the elite interests in the region.

Broadbased support from throughout Michigan

The delegations attending today's hearing and protest came from as far away as Detroit, Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Flint. There were also people present from Chicago, which is 90 miles west of Benton Harbor, as well as Portland, Oregon.

This prosecution of a political activist in southwest Michigan has shined the spotlight on the problem of continuing institutional racism in this region of the state.

Supporters of Rev. Pinkney pledged to continue their struggle to win justice for the BANCO leader. Some of the organizations present at today's hearing were representing the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI), the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO), the Call Em Out Coalition in Detroit, the National Lawyers Guild of Detroit, among others.

Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and has travelled to Benton Harbor and St. Joseph's on numerous occasions over the last four years to cover political developments in this area of the state of Michigan.

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