Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan is a long-time community organizer who has led resistance in this predominantly African-American community to a government subservient to the Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool corporation. Benton Harbor is among the Michigan cities, including Detroit, where democratic self-governance has been replaced by “emergency financial management”.
After Pinkney led a petition effort to recall the mayor of Benton Harbor, he was arrested, charged with election fraud, and eventually sentenced to up to 10 years in prison despite a distinct lack of evidence (as explained below). Rev. Pinkney is a prominent member of theMichigan Green Party and has run for Congress on the Green line.
The overt targeting of an African-American activist for a politically-motivated prosecution is reminiscent of recent episodes involving Chuck Turner and Elston McCowan, both Greens who challenged the power structures in their communities. In a system where police officers regularly kill unarmed African-American men without facing trial, it is especially galling that the same system sentences an African-American activist to up to 10 years imprisonment on trumped-up, politically-motivated charges.
Truthout.org has the details on the trial and sentencing of Rev. Edward Pinkney:
On December 15, Rev. Edward Pinkney, a leader in the struggle for social and economic justice for the residents of Benton Harbor, Michigan, was sentenced to serve up to 10 years in prison, on the basis of thin circumstantial evidence that a few dates had been altered on a recall petition against the city’s mayor, James Hightower. The recall was prompted by the mayor’s continued support for tax evasion by the Whirlpool Corporation, the Fortune 500 company and $19 billion global appliance manufacturer, headquartered in Benton Harbor.
As we wrote last week in depth, the politically motivated prosecution against Pinkney killed the petition to recall Hightower, who many believe would have been ousted due to his ongoing protection of Whirlpool’s interests at the expense of impoverished Benton Harbor, which is over 90 percent African-American.
There was absolutely no evidence to convict Pinkney, and, legally, the altering of a petition document should have been a misdemeanor offense. Instead, they charged him with felony forgery – though no signatures were forged and all signatories testified that they signed willingly on the correct day. A forensics expert for the prosecution testified that there was no way to determine who changed the handful of dates. Incredibly, the all-white jury was urged by the prosecutor to believe that direct evidence was not required; they only had to “believe” that Pinkney was motivated to cheat and that he “could” have changed the dates while circulating the petitions.
Mary Alice Adams, a Benton Harbor commissioner stated, “Rev. Pinkney was accused of writing and changing my date on a petition when, in fact, I wrote my own date and changed it after realizing I had put the wrong date down.” The jury at Pinkney’s trial rejected Adams’ testimony.
Witness after witness stood up to the prosecutor who put not only Pinkney on trial, but also his community organization, BANCO. The prosecutor hounded the witnesses to “confess” that somehow the dates were altered, and questioned if they were card-holding members of the BANCO organization. The scene held shadows of a McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities Committee witch-hunt.