Saturday, October 11, 2008

From Behind Prison Bars: Rev. Pinkney of Benton Harbor Runs For U.S. Congress


by Andrea Egypt

Due to the great outpouring of support in Michigan, Reverend Edward Pinkney has become the Green Party candidate in the 6th District Congressional race. He is running against the incumbent U.S. Congressman, Fred Upton, a political heir to Whirlpool Corporation-Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc.

The Harbor Shores project wants to take 22 acres of the Jean Klock Park away from the community in Benton Harbor and convert it to a private three holes Jack Nicholas Signature Golf Course.

Despite the fact that Berrien County's criminal justice system has locked away Reverend Pinkney on a 3-10 year prison sentence, Benton Harbor’s community activist and minister for the oppressed and dissident African American, Latino, and white populations, remains defiant and vigilant against the ruling elites of this southwest Michigan community.

Reverend Pinkney continues to gain tremendous support from people inside and outside of Benton Harbor who sees in his case the blatant contradictions within the legal system. Activists are keeping in contact with Reverend Pinkney inside the prison walls as they monitor his conditions, treatment, and the damages caused to him and his family by the unjust sentencing imposed upon him by the Berrien County court system.

Former Congresswoman and current Green Party Presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, visited Reverend Pinkney last year during his court ordered home confinement on a tether. McKinney continues to lend her support along with many other activists from surrounding counties.

Rev. Pinkney was picked up from his home by Berrien County authorities in December after statements he made that were published in an article in the People’s Tribune newspaper bsed in Chicago. According to the authorities in Berrien County, these statement supposedly violated the conditions of his parole and landed him in prison for 3-10 years.

In response to this unjust sentencing, his defense committee has broadened its scope by bringing in the ACLU, which has agreed to handle his case for possible constitutional violations. Also in regard to his original conviction in May 2007 on four felony counts and one misdemeanor for vote fraud and ballot tampering, the National Lawyer’s Guild filed a 115 page brief in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Simultaneously, his supporters have petitioned the Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, to grant clemency or vacate the conviction.

The persecution of Reverend Pinkney and the resistance to this railroading has become a classic example of injustice within the United States political system. As his case becomes more well known, it exposes the widespread problems associated with jury selection and the violations of first amendment rights related of freedom of speech and religious expression.

What Threat Does Reverend Pinkney Pose to the Power Structure in Benton Harbor?

Reverend Pinkney is both an activist and a man of the cloth. His activism is deeply rooted in the opposition to the corporate re-development and gentrification plans in Benton Harbor, an oppressed majority African American community. The white-dominated power structure in Berrien County is seeking to bring about the massive displacement of the African American community through political disenfranchisement, home foreclosures and corporate development projects.

Pinkney's continuing unjust imprisonment is shining a spot light on the power structure of Berrien County. His illegal imprisonment stems from the fact that he poses a threat to the ruling class objectives of utilizing the Whirlpool Corporation-backed Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment project, which is destroying Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor through the seizure of public property and transforming it into a golf course for private use that does not benefit in any way the African American community.

Reverend Pinkney will continue to sacrifice himself, his possessions and his security to be the vanguard and voice of the voiceless community in Benton Harbor. His tenacity and drive to protect the people who are being exploited, imprisoned, gentrified, and subjugated poses a threat only to the racist power structure.

Pinkney had organized BANCO the (Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizations), a people’s movement of resistance and protest. He continually revealed the names of those responsible for the poverty, unemployment, and adverse conditions of the poor people of Benton Harbor as they struggled to meet their basic needs.

The elite powers of Benton Harbor want to remain nameless and faceless so they can continue with their plans to remove the majority of the African American population. Reverend Pinkney has lifted the cloak of cover and identified who is really responsible for the conditions of the poor people in Benton Harbor. This is the real threat that keeps Reverend Pinkney behind bars.

Invoking Biblical Scriptures and Speaking Truth To Power

In Reverend Pinkney’s case, we must take into account that his belief system is based upon his understanding of biblical scriptures. He speaks truth to the power based upon these principles and his rights should be defended to invoke scriptures related to the consequences for those who exploit the people in Benton Harbor. His biblical invoking of scriptures are carried out by many African American ministers, priests, and pastors when they respond to attacks by the ruling class who impose injustices upon the downtrodden and poor.

Therefore, his comments that “God shall visit upon the iniquitous”, was not contrived by his own contemplations but borrowed from his religious beliefs, yet he was sent to prison for 3-10 years for comments he made to a limited circulation newspaper known as The People’s Tribune in Chicago. This is a clear violation of his first amendment rights to freedom of speech.

Prior to Reverend Pinkney being locked away in prison because of his comments, his lawyers filed an effective respondent brief in the Trial Court For Berrien County in early January 2008, in which they cited several cases of similar circumstances which set a precedent regarding the first amendment right to freedom of speech. In their brief they argued that “the constitution requires that courts not punish persons based upon protected speech that may not objectively be considered a 'true threat'."

What is a threat must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech. “True Threats” encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against a particular individual or group of individuals. Related to the doctrine regarding “ true threats” is the fact that “advocacy” is protected unless it is likely to incite others to imminent lawless action.

Under both the “true threats” doctrine and the “advocacy” doctrines; statements are protected by the first amendment unless an objective unconditional danger of physical harm or lawlessness is unambiguously present.” Therefore the contradictions inherent within the Berrien County court ruling will almost certainly be revisited due to the improper sentencing of the trial court judges in this case.

Though the ruling class elites have successfully and unlawfully locked Reverend Pinkney away from organizing the people of Benton Harbor, they have been unsuccessful in concealing and silencing his voice and influence. In fact his imprisonment has had the opposite effect by increasing attention and exposure to this miscarriage of justice.

The Disproportional Rate of Incarceration of African Americans in the United States

The alarming rate of imprisonment of African Americans compared to other national groups is astonishing and is well documented. Reverend Pinkney's unjust indictment, railroading and sentencing must be viewed within this context.

According to a report published on race and incarceration by the Human Rights Watch organization in 2000, which is based on statistics taken from the U.S. Department of Justice, blacks comprise 13 percent of the national population, but 30 percent of people arrested, 41 percent of people in jail, and 49 percent of those in prison.

The racial disparity increased between the 1980s and 1990s as the number of blacks sent to prisons grew at a faster rate than the number of whites. Between 1979 and 1990, the number of blacks as a percentage of all persons admitted to state and federal prisons increased from 39 to 53 percent.

Nationwide blacks are incarcerated at 8.2 times the rate of whites. The national black rate of incarceration increased 67 percent, from 922 per 100,000 black residents to 1547, while the white rate increased 28 percent, from 134 to 188 per 100,000 white residents. There are 4,630 black men in prison nationwide per 100,000 black men in the population, whereas the rate for white men is 482.28.

In ten states and the District of Columbia, black men are incarcerated at staggeringly high rates that range from 5,740 to 7,859 per 100,000. In contrast, the range among the ten states with the highest rates of white male incarceration is 620 to 1,151. The highest rate of white male incarceration (1,151) is lower than the lowest rate of black male incarceration (1,195).

According to the Department of Justice calculations, if current rates of incarceration remain unchanged, 28.5% of black men will be confined in prison at least once during their lifetime, a figure six times greater than that of white men.

In every state, the proportion of blacks in prison exceeds, sometimes by a considerable amount, their proportion in the general population. In no state are black men incarcerated at rates even close to those of white men. In nine states-Iowa, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin - - the black rate of incarceration doubled. In another twenty-six states the rate increased by 50% or more. In only two states (South Dakota and Washington) did the white rate double.

Because of their extraordinary rates of incarceration, one in every 20 black men over the age of 18 is in a state or federal prison, compared to one in every 180 whites. In certain states, the incarceration of black men reaches devastating levels: in Oklahoma and Iowa one in every thirteen black men is in state prison; in Rhode Island, Texas and Wisconsin, the figure is one in every fourteen.

The Political Significance of Reverend Pinkney’s Case

The capitalist system has many components of exploitation to feed the need for profit. The U.S. capitalist system openly admits that its primary goal is to achieve maximum profits, but what it doesn’t admit openly is the systemic apparatus’ of exploitation and racism embodied within the structure.

Whether the ruling class structures use law enforcement officers to inflict police brutality and the courts to impose harsh sentencing, or the military industrial complex to recruit the oppressed and working class to carry out the program of the Project for the New American Century embedded in its current foreign policy, or the exploitative systems of "free-trade", economic “hitmen” agreements like (NAFTA), etc., all of these mechanism are designed to control, exploit, subjugate and make maximum profits from the targeted groups who are disproportionately African American, Latino, and other oppressed populations.

The prison system works parallel with the judiciary system (particularly on the state levels) in direct violation of supposed constitutional guarantees of targeted groups. Generally these structures work together to support the deeply entrenched ruling class initiatives for imminent domain over land and natural resources while utilizing the prison system as a means of legally removing the masses from society and areas of interest.

We can point to another example of systemic ethnic removal in the case of New Orleans after the impact of Hurricane Katrina wherein the natural disaster and the damage it caused presented an opportunity to legally remove the masses of the mostly African Americans permanently by way of evacuation.

It is a profound contradiction within the judiciary system to arbitrarily promote the notion of fair and impartial jurisprudence when a disproportionate number of African American and Latino men and women are either forced to plea bargain for crimes they didn’t commit, suffer lockups without proper representation, and receive maximum sentencing from juries who embody racial biases. One could conclude that the judiciary system is not set up to establish justice for these groups, but instead to work as a mechanism to remove them from society at alarming record numbers.

What You Can Do To Help Reverend Pinkney

Reverend Pinkney is a political prisoner trapped within the legal structures of the judicial and correctional system in the State of Michigan. It will take the concerned communities around the country to expose his case and to organized protests to free him. If you would like to help in the struggle to free him:

(1) Please send letters or postcards supporting Rev. Pinkney's application to the Parole Board. These are extremely important. Text can be as simple as: "I support Rev. Pinkney's application for pardon."

Michigan Department of Corrections
Office of the Parole Board
Pardons and Commutations Coordinator
Post Office Box 30003
Lansing, Michigan 48909

(2) Write Governor Granholm and ask her to FREE Rev. Pinkney as a political prisoner and to investigate why the state corrections department is not allowing media access to him.

Governor Granholm
PO Box 30013
Lansing, MI 48909


(4) Donate to his legal defense campaign. Checks to BANCO for Pinkney's legal fees (tax-deductible):

1940 Union St.
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
(5) BOYCOTT WHIRLPOOL & SUBSIDIARIES (Amana, Estate, Gladiator Garage Works, Insperience, Jenn-Air, KitchenAid, Magic Chef, Maytag, Roper, Acros, Inglis, Bauknecht, Brastemp, Admiral, IKEA appliances, some Kenmore)

(6) Write comments on BANCO’s blog: (comments by Berrien County "power players" must be seen to be believed)

(7) Write letters to Rev. Pinkney and tell him you support him!

Rev. Edward Pinkney #294671-G46
Ojibway Correctional Facility
N5705 Ojibway Road
Marenisco, MI 49947-9771
(906) 787-2217

Andrea Egypt is a member of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI).

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