Rev. Edward Pinkney (Photo by Dorothy Pinkney)
Rev Pinkney’s appeal hearing is on Feb 24th. Please sign the petition and join the boycott against Whirlpool
As reports escalate of police assaults and murder of unarmed black men for suspected" crimes, a jury trial certainly sounds like welcome justice.
Not so for many in Michigan, where the 66-year-old black activist, Rev. Edward Pinkney, convicted of felony election fraud by an all-white jury, faces up to 10 years in prison, on clearly trumped-up charges and no direct evidence of wrongdoing.
For decades, Revernd Edward Pinkney has been a highly irritating thorn in the side of the Whirlpool corporation and the power structure in Michigan; a state where racial and economic divisions are ugly and stark. In recent years, democratic governance of six low-income, majority African-American cities has been forcefully suspended by state "Emergency Management."
Pinkney is founder of BANCO, the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization, and is arguably the loudest, most outspoken activist in Benton Harbor; he fought aggressively against the state-imposed dictatorship of emergency management, after the Tea-Party and Koch brothers helped orchestrate a takeover of Michigan in 2010. His organization holds spirited rallies and takes political action against what the group claims is rampant government-corporate collusion, police corruption, economic injustice, and a discriminatory - even "genocidal" - plan for gentrification of the city.
When an all-white jury is chosen to try a prominent black community leader of an impoverished city with a 90 percent black population; when the powers that be have numerous reasons to want him discredited; when the evidence is entirely lacking and the punishment is draconian, there is ample cause to suspect another egregious reach of justice - one as blatant as refusing to indict the police who killed an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, and choked a father of six to death in Staten Island.
To be clear, it is still legal to try a black man with an all-white jury in the United
States. In the 1986 Supreme Court ruling, Batson v. Kentucky, the court held that a
defendant is not entitled to a jury containing or lacking members of any particular race. But in this case of activist, Reverend Edward Pinkney, his supporters believe it
is equivalent to a white mob lynching an "upstart negro."
Reverend Pinkney has also taken on the dominant power in the city of Benton Harbor - the Whirlpool Corporation. The criminal charges against him stem from his attempt to recall Mayor James Hightower for foisting a multimillion-dollar loan on the citizens of the city to balance the budget, while refusing to tax Whirlpool, a $19 billion Fortune 500 behemoth that pays absolutely no taxes to Benton Harbor.
A majority of city commissioners voted against the loan, but they were simply overruled by the "emergency manager." The charges against Rev. Pinkney conveniently derailed the petition to recall Mayor Hightower, who many believe would likely have been ousted had the election taken place, including former Benton Harbor City Commissioner Trenton Bowens, who just retired.
"I’ve never seen this many citizens so frustrated. They feel the mayor is for big business and not about people. Pinkney is a radical, he wasn’t on anyone's payroll, he was protesting at the hospital, the courthouse, the mayor's house, city hall. If the status quo does not like you, they will do anything to get rid of you. It's a sad day."
No direct evidence was presented to the all-white jury to implicate Rev. Pinkney,
who was charged with altering data on public petitions to recall Mayor Hightower.
The charge was that some signatures were made one day prior to the 60-day window required by state law, and that dates were later changed to make the signatures valid.
Signatories testified that they had signed the petition on the correct date in
question, and no one claimed that they actually saw Rev. Pinkney change any dates.
Mark Goff, a forensic document examiner with the Michigan State Police, stated the
dates were written with two different inks, but that he could not determine who
made the changes, or when they were made.
The crime itself of altering data on petitions is only a misdemeanor offense under
Michigan law. Despite all this, the white prosecutor decided to charge Rev. Pinkney
with five counts of felony election fraud "forgery." The 66-year-old activist was
convicted and sentenced by a white judge, Sterling Schrock, on December 15 to 2.5-
10 years in jail; what could amount to a life sentence for the 66 year old activist.
In stark contrast, the surprise write-in victory of white outsider candidate Mike
Duggan as Detroit Mayor in 2013 was riddled with public accusations of fraud and
numerous submissions of hard evidence of forged ballots, but that highly
questionable election was never even officially investigate; not a whimper of
opposition was aimed by the oligarchy-controlled judicial system to the election of
this white Johnny-come-lately who had to run on a write- in campaign because he
failed the residency requirement when he filed to run for mayor, and mysteriously
won election in a city that is 83% black.
As with other similarly distressed cities, Benton Harbor’s demise must be examined
in light of the history in Michigan of long-term government-sanctioned structural
racism in housing, schooling, lending and employment. Combine this with
corporate economic policies - radically accelerated in the past 40 years – explicitly
designed to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working class.
Add to this mass criminalization: The drive to corporate privatization of the
American prison system has turned poor and minority citizens into fodder to fill
for-profit target quotas of 100 percent cell occupancy. Over 2 million people are
currently behind bars in America, providing a source of third world-style prison
labor for major corporations from Starbucks to Victoria’s Secret, to the United
Such complex social malignancy is poorly understood by the affluent classes and
never discussed by the white, 1%-owned corporate mainstream media. Today this
means that blighted minority communities like Benton Harbor are easy pickings for the wealth-engorged vulture-capitalist class. Using unequal media access to defend
their brazen land and resource grabs, they spout simplistic, racist justifications that
"those people" are lazy and cannot govern themselves.
Some even promote the "post-racial" theory, denying that racism plays a
fundamental part in shaping present American society. In fact, 26 racist hate
groups are known to be operating in Michigan today, and the state was a major hub
of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, targeting black people in the Great
Migration north from southern states to industrial centers.
Reverend Pinkney has been a leader in the struggle for justice and against racism. In the late '90s, when the Klan appeared in Benton Harbor again, it was Rev.
Pinkney who organized citizens to avoid their demonstrations and "deprive them of
an audience." But if Rev. Pinkney has taken the role of David in Benton Harbor, he
clearly sees Goliath as the Whirlpool Corporation. The multi-national appliance
giant has closed factories and cut five thousand jobs nationwide in recent years,
outsourcing some manufacturing to Mexico, citing the race-to-the-bottom of free-
trade economics as the grounds for abandonment of American workers. Though
Whirlpool closed its last Benton Harbor plant in 2010 and laid-off hundreds, it
remains the primary industry in the area.
Whirlpool is among many Fortune 500 companies that have pulled the "Get out of
Taxes Free" card. Congress has authorized hundreds of millions in tax credits for
Whirlpool, whose total income taxes - including foreign, federal and state - were
(negative) -$436 million in 2011, -$64 million in 2010, and -$61 million in 2009,
according to The Boston Globe. The company carries forward federal credits as
"deferred tax assets" that it can use to lower future tax bills. "Multinational
companies and banks, including General Electric, Citigroup and Ford Motor Co.,
with investment earnings from overseas accounts, won tax breaks collectively worth
$11 billion - a return on their two-year lobbying investment of at least 8,200
percent," according to a Globe analysis of lobbying reports.
Rev. Pinkney wrote, "Whirlpool should pay taxes. Whirlpool is among the
wealthiest, greediest corporations in the world. Somebody needs to ask the
Whirlpool Corporation and Mayor Hightower how they can sleep at night. Mayor
Hightower continues to support and enable the greed at Whirlpool at the expense of
Benton Harbor residents. Because of his corporate collusion, he joins all of the
giant corporations who are directly responsible for the severe poverty in the city of
Whirlpool exploits the poor using the model of predatory home loans: Rev. Pinkney
points to the 1999 conviction of Whirlpool Financial and one of its dealers in
Alabama, caught in a fraudulent state-wide, door-to-door sales scheme. Peddling
drastically overpriced satellite dishes on so-called "Whirlpool Credit," with a 22
percent interest rate, according to law firm Beasley Allen, Whirlpool bilked millions
of dollars out of thousands of people. "A former agent testified that Whirlpool
specifically targeted illiterate and unsophisticated people, and that he had trained
others to lie about the terms of the financing."
Today a bitter source of contention between Benton Harbor residents and
Whirlpool is what many see as the hostile take-over of Jean Klock Park, a green-
and dune-scape, bequeathed to the city solely for public use in 1917. The real estate
fronts gorgeous Lake Michigan. In 2008, a consortium of Whirlpool Foundation
and two other nonprofit groups privatized the heart of the park as part of a $500
million development called Harbor Shores, a planned enclave of high-end homes,
shops and hotels, including a "Jack Nicklaus Signature" golf course. Harbor Shores
Community Redevelopment promised to attract business, tourists and new middle-
and upper-class homeowners.
In May, 2012 Rev. Pinkney organized Occupy PGA, boisterously marching 100
protesters to the Golf Club at Harbor Shores during the 73rd Senior PGA
Championship, a $2.1-million golf tournament. Occupy PGA demanded that 25
percent of the Senior PGA profits be provided to the city. They also called for
boycotts of KitchenAid, the Senior PGA's presenting sponsor, and Whirlpool.
Additionally, Rev. Pinkney and others claim the 530-acre Harbor Shores deal
violates the 1977 Land and Water Conservation Fund Act protecting the Jean Klock
park under the condition that the land remain forever open to the public or, if
closed, be replaced with land of equal fair market value and reasonably equivalent
recreational use. However, according to two citizen opposition groups, the land
given in exchange is scattered and contaminated with industrial chemical waste.
Reporting on both Harbor Shores and a new $68 million, 270,000-square-foot
corporate campus for Whirlpool (subsidized with millions in tax credits), The New
York Times stated: "The juxtaposition of Benton Harbor’s impoverished population
and its two rising monuments to wealth - all wedged into a little more than four
square miles - make it almost a caricature of economic disparity in America.”
The American judicial system is clearly broken, and the conviction of Reverend
Pinkney is surely part of the trend towards turning leaders of social justice
movements into political prisoners. Suppression of Rev. Pinkney leaves a deep hole
in the activist community of Michigan.
In appealing for support in his case, Rev. Pinkney writes in his well-known populist
“The fight in Benton Harbor is a war, it’s not a conflict. It’s a war over whether
America will have prosperity and democracy, or live in poverty under the heel of
open corporate rule.”
"This is not a thing of Blacks against Whites. It is Rich against Poor and the Haves
against the Have-nots. Corporate fascism is here now. We must stand together
and fight this Police State.”
Sign the petition to Free Rev. Pinkney
Please also write or call Judge Sterling Schrock and demand justice for Reverend Pinkney at his appeal hearing February 24th.
Berrien County Courthouse
811 Port Street
St. Joseph, MI 49085
Written by Ben Ptashnik and Victoria Collier
Parts of this article were originally printed in Truthout, News Analysis
Ben Ptashnik is Chairman of People Demanding Action (PDA) (www.peopledemandingaction.org)
Victoria Collier is Director of the National Elections Integrity Coalition (NEIC),
democracymovement.us, and editor of Votescam.org