Incarceration Nation

Free Reverend Edward Pinkney

National defense campaign building

By Abayomi Azikiwe

Michigan political prisoner Reverend Edward Pinkney is now being held in Jackson state prison. He remains in good spirits despite the racist injustice that has landed him in detention over manufactured claims that he changed the dates on five signature entries on a recall petition designed to remove Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower.

During the course of the trial there was no material or circumstantial evidence presented that would implicate Pinkney in the purported five felonies. Many believe that the Berrien County activist and leader of the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO) is being punished by the local authorities for opposing the corporate program of Whirlpool Corporation, which is headquartered in Benton Harbor.

In 2012, Pinkney and BANCO led an “Occupy the PGA” demonstration against the world-renowned golf tournament that was held at the newly-created Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course on Lake Michigan. The course was carved out of Jean Klock Park, which had been donated to the City of Benton Harbor decades ago.

Berrien County officials were determined to defeat a recall campaign against Mayor Hightower of Benton Harbor, who opposed a program to tax local corporations in an effort to create jobs and improve conditions in the majority African American municipality. Benton Harbor, like other Michigan cities, has been devastated by widespread poverty and unemployment.

Statements of support pour in

This is not the first time that Pinkney has been imprisoned for his political activities. In 2007 he was convicted in a second trial, with the first ending in a hung jury, for “mishandling” absentee ballots during a recall election involving two Benton Harbor city commissioners. The results of the elections removing the officials were overturned after criminal charges were filed against the BANCO leader.

Pinkney was sentenced to one year under house arrest and four more years of probation. Later in 2007, he was charged with violating the terms of his sentence for allegedly threatening a judge in Berrien County.

The threat charge stemmed from an article he wrote in the People’s Tribune newspaper based in Chicago where he quoted scriptures from the Old Testament. He was ordered imprisoned for three to ten years.

The charges were overturned in late 2008 by the Michigan Appeals Court after the activist received widespread support from the civil liberties, ecumenical and academic communities across the country. He was released at the end of 2008 and successfully completed his probation, returning to full-time activism in Berrien County.

Pinkney in 2008 from his prison cell ran for United States Congress on the Green Party ticket in Michigan. He received 3,500 votes in a challenge to Fred Upton, a Republican congressman and heir to the Whirpool corporate dynasty.

A statement issued December 17 by Green Party Watch says: “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 ten years imprisonment on trumped-up, politically motivated charges.”

Black Agenda Report, a well-known media outlet opposing the corporate influence over African American politics in the U.S., wrote in a December 17 editorial: “This may seem like an Old Jim Crow story, about a preacher from a small, mostly Black town who wanted only to help his people through the voting process, but is set upon by backward whites determined to maintain their monopoly on political power. And, it is true; Old Man Jim Crow is alive and well on the banks of Lake Michigan.”

This same editorial goes on, saying: “But it is the New Jim Crow, the Mass Black Incarceration State, that has snatched 66-year-old Reverend Pinkney away to what could become life in prison. The judge and prosecutor said that Pinkney’s 12 past and present felony convictions make him a career criminal, even though each count stems from an elections process. The Old Jim Crow would have unapologetically sent Pinkney to the chain gang for being an uppity Black man, but the New Jim Crow simply piled on a bunch of felonies to put him away as a serial criminal, allowing the system to claim that race had nothing to do with it.”

A national conference call was held on Thursday, December 18, designed to build a defense campaign. Former Vermont State Senator Ben-Zion Ptashnik initiated the call through the People Demanding Action (PDA) organization.

The conference call included activist members of the clergy, electoral reform organizers, former Green Party candidates, progressive Democrats, the People’s Tribune newspaper, Moratorium NOW! Coalition and others. The call provided an update on the case and plans to publicize the plight of Reverend Pinkney and the people of Berrien County, recruit a legal team and organize a fundraising drive to proceed with an appeal.

Ptashnik and Victoria Collier wrote in on December 16, 2014: “Concerned activists and clergy associated with People Demanding Action, a national social justice organization, are circulating a petition to ministers and various organizations. The petition is to be forwarded to the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for an investigation into the circumstances of Pinkney’s trial and sentencing.”

To sign the petition in support of Reverend Edward Pinkney log on to:

Contributions for the defense of Reverend Pinkney can be sent to BANCO at 1940 Union St., Benton Harbor, Michigan 49022.

Messages of support for Reverend Pinkney and concern for his welfare should be sent to Warden Randall Haas, G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, 3500 North Elm Road, Jackson MI 49201, phone: 517-780-5600. Encourage the media to ask the warden to arrange an interview with Reverend Pinkney.

Send some love and light to Reverend Pinkney, who is said to be locked down 23 hours a day: Reverend Edward Pinkney, 294671, G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility, 3855 Cooper St., Jackson MI 49201.

Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of Pan-African News Wire. Pan-African News Wire is the world’s only international daily pan-African news source, is designed to foster intelligent discussion on the affairs of African people throughout the continent and the world.

San Francisco Bay View, December 23, 2014