By David A. Love and Larry Pinkney
BC Editorial Board
Published by The Black Commentator
December 20, 2007
In a series of commentaries in recent months, BlackCommentator.com has reported on the story of Reverend Edward Pinkney. Rev. Pinkney, a Black community leader and activist, has led the fight against official corruption and corporate greed in his impoverished and predominantly Black community of Benton Harbor, Michigan.
In an effort to stop the giveaway of Benton Harbor’s prime waterfront property to the Whirlpool Corporation—which plans to build the $750 million to $1 billion Harbor Shores, a resort complete with a marina, golf course, hotels and luxury housing units, none of which will provide any benefit to Benton Harbor’s residents—Pinkney led a successful election effort to unseat the city’s most influential powerbroker. A local judge threw out the election, and was subsequently rewarded by President Bush with a seat on the federal bench.
In retaliation for the recall effort, Pinkney was charged with voter fraud under an unjust, overly broad state law and found guilty by an all-White jury. He was placed on probation and placed under house arrest. His appeal for a new trial was denied. For a detailed analysis, see Larry Pinkney’s May 10, 2007 commentary entitled, Benton Harbor 2007: A Case Study of State Sanctioned Suppression of Voting Rights, and David A. Love’s December 13, 2007 commentary entitled, Reverend Pinkney’s Fight Against Racism, Gangsterism and Land Stealing.
On December 13, 2007, former Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-Georgia), a Green Party presidential candidate, visited Benton Harbor to show support for Rev. Pinkney. The next day, Judge Alfred Butzbaugh issued an arrest warrant for Pinkney on the grounds that Pinkney violated his probation by engaging in “assaultive, abusive, defamatory, demeaning, harassing, violent, threatening, or intimidating behavior.” At issue was an article in the November/December issue of The People’s Tribune, in which Rev. Pinkney stated “We must fight for justice for all anytime you have a Judge like Alfred Butzbaugh, who is a racist. It took over 53 days to render a fifth-grade decision denying me a new trial.” Pinkney also said “In my motion for a new trial, I argued that I was charged but never arraigned, nor did I receive due process by the dumb Judge and prosecutor.” He added: “I support the constitution of the United States and the State of Michigan; we are still waiting on this racist corrupt judge to do the same. Judge Butzbaugh has failed the people, the community, his duties and his office.” Neither Pinkney nor his counsel were aware of such terms to his probation.
Rev. Pinkney was arrested by sheriff’s deputies and locked up in the Berrien County Jail in neighboring St. Joseph. And his computer was confiscated. His supporters have endorsed a petition protesting the stolen Benton Harbor election and Pinkney’s false prosecution. They are calling for clemency from Governor Granholm, and a boycott of Whirlpool products.
In the meantime, Rev. Pinkney is on a hunger strike. He is taking only liquids. In a statement, former Rep. McKinney said the following: “We received a tremendous reception in Benton Harbor, Michigan--a majority black community that is fighting for its survival against powerful corporate interests that want to own its pristine beachfront land. Reverend Edward Pinkney has been a stalwart fighter for justice in the community and is leading its resistance to these powerful corporate interests. I went to Benton Harbor to support Reverend Pinkney and the people of Benton Harbor in their struggle for self-determination. At this meeting, it was clear that Reverend Pinkney had succeeded in bringing whites and blacks together in this fight for justice. And we know that powerful interests view that as a no-no. Unfortunately, today, the day after our wonderful rally with the residents, Reverend Pinkney was picked up by the police for allegedly violating the terms of his parole to not make ‘inflammatory statements.’”
Rev. Pinkney has been punished twice, once for fighting against powerful corporate interests— and using the democratic process to unseat their primary water boy— and a second time for using his First Amendment right to free speech by criticizing those who have committed a grave injustice against him.
The team of attorney’s representing Rev. Pinkney believes they have a good first amendment case. The National Lawyers Guild team will challenge the arrest, challenge the terms of the probation and ask the court to modify the conditions of probation at a hearing set for 4pm ET today (Thursday, December 20). Hugh M. Davis, one member the three-lawyer Pinkney legal team told BC they would argue in court that the seizing of Pinkney’s computer and prohibition of the use of a cell phone was illegal. Additionally they will argue that the terms of condition 15 of the probation document are overbroad and vague. The National Lawyers Guild team is hoping to get Pinkney released on bail while awaiting an appeal of the case.
The case of Rev. Pinkney is part of a lengthy ongoing struggle in Benton Harbor. Rev. Pinkney and the Black community of Benton Harbor are not receiving justice, and "justice delayed is justice denied" to Pinkney and the entire Black community of Benton Harbor.
Further, it should be noted that what is occurring in Benton Harbor with Rev. Pinkney and the Black community there is precisely what is taking place on assorted levels throughout the U.S., e.g. the Jena 6, the San Francisco 8, the officially admitted Black torture victims of the Chicago police, etc. And there are Benton Harbors across the nation, as Black, Brown and poor communities are displaced and decimated by gentrification and corporate greed, and in the case of New Orleans, eliminated through official neglect.
For those who believe it cannot, will not happen to them, the suppression of Rev. Pinkney's free speech rights jeopardizes the free speech rights of all Americans, particularly those of Black political activists and other people of color. At a time when what you say can land you in jail, this suppression of Rev. Pinkney and the Black community has a chilling effect upon the exercising of one's constitutional rights.
BC readers should contact Rep. John Conyers to let him know that they want justice for Rev. Pinkney:
Rep. John Conyers
669 Federal Building
231 W. Lafayette
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 226-2085 Fax
2426 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC 20515
(202) 225-0072 Fax
2615 W. Jefferson
Trenton, MI 48183
(734) 675-4218 Fax
Email Mr. Conyers: John.Conyers@mail.house.gov