Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor granted bond hearing
Published Dec 20, 2008 8:32 AM
In a long awaited decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled favorably on a
motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to grant bond to Rev.
Pinkney with bullhorn,
May 14, 2007.
WW photo: Abayomi Azikiwe
Pinkney, who is the leader of the Black Autonomy Network of Community
Organizers (BANCO) in Benton Harbor, was sentenced in May 2007 to one year in
jail and five years probation on alleged vote-fraud charges. An all-white jury
in racially divided Berrien County, located in the southwest region of
Michigan, delivered the verdict.
After sitting at his home for seven months on a tether, with the restriction
that he could not walk outside on his lawn, Pinkney had his probation revoked
by trial Judge Alfred M. Butzbaugh and was ordered jailed because of an article
that was published in the People’s Tribune newspaper.
After Judge Butzbaugh recused himself from the violation of probation hearing
against Pinkney, Judge Wiley proceeded to sentence the Baptist minister to
three-to-10 years in prison for supposedly threatening Judge Butzbaugh in that
same December 2007 article.
Michigan ACLU Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, in an ACLU statement,
emphasized that “We are thrilled that Rev. Edward Pinkney will be home
with his family celebrating Christmas instead of sitting in prison for
criticizing a judge. The court properly recognized that serious constitutional
questions are raised when a minister is thrown in prison for predicting what
God might do.”
In the newspaper article in question, Rev. Pinkney quoted a passage from the
Bible saying that God would “curse” the judge unless he
“hearkened unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe and to do all
that is right.” The minister also expressed his view that the judge was
racist, dumb and corrupt.
The ACLU wrote in its Dec. 11 statement that it “argued in its motion for
bond pending appeal that the statements Rev. Pinkney made in his newspaper
editorial, while offensive to many, are clearly protected speech under the
First Amendment. The ACLU further urged the Court of Appeals to release Rev.
Pinkney on bond while it considers the appeal of his sentence.”
In the order issued on Dec. 10, the Michigan Court of Appeals not only granted
the ACLU motion but also is set to decide on the merits of Rev. Pinkney’s
appeal in 2009. A bond hearing was set for Dec. 18 in Berrien County with Judge
Rev. Pinkney’s sentencing sparked a national campaign demanding his
release. In recent reports from the various prisons where he has been
incarcerated over the last year, Pinkney said he felt that his life was
People from the state of Michigan and throughout the country wrote letters,
e-mails and made telephone calls to the prisons in order to seek information on
Rev. Pinkney’s condition. Over the last several months, he has been
transferred to at least five different correctional facilities around the
Rev. Pinkney’s plight and Berrien County
In Berrien County, which is divided between the poor and predominately
African-American Benton Harbor and the white and more affluent St. Joseph,
there has been a long history of racism and injustice.
Rev. Pinkney, through his organizing efforts, sought to expose the racism
inherent in the law-enforcement and court systems in Berrien County. BANCO has
organized numerous protest activities over the last several years.
In 2003, the African-American community in Benton Harbor rose up in a rebellion
that lasted for three days. This uprising was spawned when a young
African-American motorcyclist died as a result of a police chase.
Despite pledges from the state government to intervene in support of the people
of Benton Harbor, conditions within the city have worsened over the last five
years. Unemployment is astronomically high, which has resulted in one of the
largest foreclosure and eviction rates in Michigan.
In a recent affront to the Benton Harbor community, the City Commission voted
to lease 22 acres of Jean Klock Park to a private group known as the Harbor
Shores Community Redevelopment in order to build three holes of a Jack Nicklaus
Signature Golf Course. Jean Klock Park is Benton Harbor’s only park on
An environmental group, Friends of Jean Klock Park, have taken legal action to
halt the efforts of the Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment project. Berrien
County trial Judge Scott Schofield dismissed a lawsuit filed by the group in
August to halt the seizure of the 22 acres for the construction of a golf
The Friends of Jean Klock Park said that the private development scheme
violated the deed that created the park in 1917 as a site specifically for
public recreation in the city of Benton Harbor.
According to the local Herald-Palladium newspaper in Berrien County: “The
high-end golf course will be open to the public but operated by Harbor
Shores—a private, nonprofit consortium of the Alliance for World Class
Communities, Cornerstone Alliance and Whirlpool Foundation. The course is the
centerpiece of the Harbor Shores residential and resort development planned to
cover 530 acres in Benton Harbor, Benton Township and St. Joseph.”
The significance of the case against Rev. Pinkney
This type of politically motivated frame-up occurs far too often in the United
States against activists, particularly from oppressed communities, who dare to
stand up and organize against racism and class exploitation. Most people within
the African-American community and its allies saw this attack on Rev. Pinkney
as an effort aimed at discouraging and intimidating anyone who attempts to
organize for better living conditions and equality before the legal system.
However, Rev. Pinkney has remained steadfast in his position as an organizer
and religious leader. He has never wavered on the question of his innocence and
right to engage in protected speech as well as political activity.
The recent victory in the Michigan Appeals Court should serve as an inspiration
to other defense committees working to liberate political prisoners throughout
the U.S. Although Pinkney may eventually be vindicated in the courts, it is the
organized and conscious might of the people that will be the ultimate decisive
factor in the freeing of all political prisoners.
Abayomi Azikiwe has traveled on numerous occasions to Berrien County to
cover the case of Rev. Pinkney as well as race relations in this southwest
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