Incarceration Nation

Political Prisoner Reverend Pinkney

In fear of his life

By Glen Ford

Reverend Edward Pinkney, the imprisoned community activist from the mostly Black town of Benton Harbor, Michigan, believes his life is in danger. Pinkney is serving a sentence of two-and-a-half to ten years following his conviction by an all-white jury on the flimsiest of charges of tampering with an election recall petition. He told Kenneth Rhoades, a supporter on the outside, that he’s not afraid of the inmates, but fears the government is out to do him harm—and that they might get away with it because, in his words, “they cover everything up” at Marquette Branch Prison, located on the thinly populated and very, very white Upper Peninsula of Michigan, almost 500 miles from Benton Harbor.

Pinkney, who is 67 years old, has witnessed numerous assaults on inmates by prison guards, and has spent long stretches in isolation. For six months he was deprived of phone and visitation privileges because the authorities believed he was behind a mass inmate food protest—another bogus charge, since inmates at prisons on the Upper Peninsula have been protesting the food since before Pinkney arrived.

This is the second time that Pinkney has been railroaded to prison for trying to bring change to deeply impoverished Benton Harbor through the vote. Back in 2007, after two trials, an all-white jury from the surrounding county convicted him of tampering with a ballot petition. He was sentenced to house arrest, but was then thrown in prison for a year when he quoted Bible verses to the judge—something of a first in American legal history. Ultimately, the conviction was overturned on appeal.

Crushing voting rights activism with SWAT and prison

Reverend Pinkney’s lawyers believe his current conviction on similar bogus charges will ultimately also be reversed—but that could take years, and anything can happen to a political activist in the American prison gulag.

Mary Neal, who calls Reverend Pinkney her “online minister,” believes the people of Flint, Michigan, would have responded to the poisoning of their water sooner if Pinkney hadn’t been incarcerated at the time. The Reverend has had more experience than most other activists in dealing with state appointed emergency financial managers like the one that switched the water supply in Flint. Benton Harbor was put under state dictatorship in 2010. Governor Rick Snyder then quickly expanded the emergency financial manager regime to all of the state’s heavily Black cities, effectively disenfranchising more than half of Michigan’s Black citizens. But, Reverend Pinkney and his Black Autonomy Network Community Organization, or BANCO, pressed on, refusing to accept the loss of their local voting rights, either to the State of Michigan, or at the hands of the giant Whirlpool Corporation, which has ruled Benton Harbor like a plantation for generations. Finally, they sent a SWAT team to arrest Reverend Pinkney at his home in April 2014, and now he sits in cell in the American equivalent of Siberia, a 67-year-old soldier in the African liberation struggle.

Black Agenda Report, June 7, 2016