Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Rev. Edward Pinkney Sentenced to 3-10 Years for Quoting Scriptures; Two African-Americans Killed by Detroit Police

Rev. Pinkney Sentenced to 3-10 Years for Quoting Scriptures

Judge says references to Deuteronomy was threatening

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

Rev. Edward Pinkney, the leader of the Benton Harbor Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO), was sentenced on June 26 by Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley to a term of 3-10 years in prison. The minister, based in this southwest Michigan city, was already serving a year in jail and five years probation for trumped-up charges related to a recall campaign held during 2006.

The most recent sentence stemmed from an article written by Rev. Pinkney and published in the People's Tribune newspaper in December 2007. Berrien County Chief Judge Alfred Butzbaugh ruled that the article, which stated in part that: "The Lord shall smite thee with consumption and with a fever and with an inflammation and with extreme burning," threatened him and his family.

In Judge Butzbaugh's courtroom, the BANCO leader was initially convicted by an all-white jury in March 2007 for four felonies and one misdemeanor for vote fraud and ballot tampering. Pinkney had been kept under house arrest on a tether between May and December 2007 when he was ordered to jail for one year by Butzbaugh. Jim Pjesky, a probations officer with the State Department of Corrections, said that Pinkney did not deny writing the article but he never meant it as a threat.

After claiming that the threat was directed at him, Judge Butzbaugh recused himself from the case leaving the way open for Wiley to hand down the severe decisision. The decision was given by Wiley after claiming that the contents of the article written by Rev. Pinkney was not protected under US Constituional rights to free speech and represented a threat.

Rev. Pinkney was visited by guards at 4:00 a.m. in the Berrien County Jail on July 3 and transported to Jackson Prison. Reports from Pinkney's wife, Dorothy, and his supporters in Benton Harbor, say that he will be transfered from Jackson to a permanent facility after 30 days.

Rev. Edward Pinkney has been a long-time activist in the Berrien County area. He became outspoken when increasing incidents of police misconduct and perceived judicial bias lead to a mass rebellion during the summer of 2003. In the aftermath of the rebellion, Pinkney led a successful recall campign against Glenn Yarborough, Benton Harbor City Commissioner.

Politicians in Berrien County, which includes Benton Harbor, Benton Township and the more affluent St. Joseph, have long been beholden to the Upton family the owners of Whirpool Corporation. In 2005 Rev. Pinkney set out to bring employment opportunities to Benton Harbor where in this overwhelmingly majority African-American population, unemployment is extremely high.

After being blocked from carrying out this effort, BANCO organized a recall of City Commissioner Glenn Yarborough. Soon afterwards, Rev. Pinkney, the BANCO leader, was charged with vote fraud and consequently the results of the recall vote were overturned by a Berrien County judge.

A massive scheme to establish a so-called development project in Berrien County utilizing land which could encroach on the African-American community in Benton Harbor, is moving straight ahead. Authorities in Berrien County are hoping that with Rev. Pinkney beng potentially locked away in prison for many years to come, that they can get away with a greater re-location of the city's African-American population.

The rate of foreclosure in Benton Harbor is astronomical. This is another mechanism to force large segments of the African-American people to abandon the city.

Activists in the Michigan area are planning future activities where people can protest their outrage over the treatment of the local leader and organizer.

Two African-American men gunned down by police in Detroit

Meanwhile in the state of Michigan's largest city, Detroit, two recent killings by police officers of African-American men has drawn attention to the fact that despite two federal consent decrees having been in effect for five years, police are continuing their terrorist activity against the people.

On June 2, Tommy Staples, Jr., 54, was shot several times in the head and back by Detroit police officers on the northwest side of the city. Police claim that Staples had a gun, but his daughter and son stated over the "Fighting for Justice" radio program hosted by the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, that Staples did not even own a gun.

In response to the killing of Staples, the community gathered on June 24 near the site of the shooting for a candlelight vigil and speakout. Over 200 people attended this event that was organized by the family of Tommy Staples, Jr., community residents of the area as well as the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.

The family and friends of Staples are demanding that the two police officers involved in the shooting be charged with murder. The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality is also demanding that the Wayne County Prosecutor's Officer pursue the case aggressively in order to uncover the circumstances surrounding the killing of this well-respected community resident and family man.

While the community began to mobilize around the death of Tommy Staples, Jr., another killing of a civilian by the police took place in the early morning hours of July 1. This time the victim was a 16-year-old named Sheldon Robert Bell. According to police, Bell attempted to carjack an off duty police officer at a gasoline station located on the northwest side of the city.

This youth was reportedly shot 8 times by the officer. Members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality went to the scene of the shooting immediately and interviewed witnesses as well as members of the victim's family. According to the Coalition, the shooting of Bell raises serious questions involving the use of lethal force. Some witnesses claim that after the young man was hit by bullets and lying face down, he was shot an additional four times at close range.

Repression Escalates as Economic Crisis Deepens

The state of Michigan has been one of the hardest hit areas by the economic downturn sweeping the United States. There have been massive layoffs in the automotive and other industrial sectors of the labor force. Since 2000 there have been approximately 500,000 jobs loss in the state.

In addition, the state has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. At present the Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions is mounting a statewide campaign demanding the passage of Senate Bill 1306 which is sponsored by State Senator Hansen Clarke.

Both the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and the Moratorium Now! Coalition sees a direct relationship between the growing layoffs and foreclosures and the ongoing wars of occupation, the so-called war on terrorism and the adoption of torture as a method of interogation by the United States.

The failure of the present system to offer people a living wage and the basic necessities of life is being enforced by the use of more deadly law-enforcement techniques by the local police agencies. Only a popular fightback campaign to confront both the growing economic downturn as well as the increasing repression by the police can provide any hope for the people to reverse the current situation.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. PANW articles appear regularly in numerous publications and websites throughout the United States and the world.

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