•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

Black reverend sentenced to 3-10 years for quoting scriptures

Published Jul 9, 2008 10:59 PM

Rev. Edward Pinkney, leader of the Benton Harbor Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO), was sentenced on June 26 by Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley to a term of three to ten years in prison. The minister, based in this southwest Michigan city, was already serving a year in jail and five years probation for trumped-up charges related to a recall campaign held during 2006.

Rev. Pinkney, leader of the Benton
Harbor Black Autonomy Network of
Community Organizers (BANCO).
WW photo: Cheryl LaBash

The most recent sentence stemmed not from any act but from an article written by Rev. Pinkney and published in the People’s Tribune newspaper in December 2007. Berrien County Chief Judge Alfred Butzbaugh claimed that the article, which stated in part that “The Lord shall smite thee with consumption and with a fever and with an inflammation and with extreme burning,” threatened him and his family.

The BANCO leader had been convicted in Butzbaugh’s courtroom by an all-white jury in March 2007 for four felonies and one misdemeanor for alleged vote fraud and ballot tampering. Pinkney had been kept under house arrest on a tether between May and December 2007, when he was ordered to jail for one year by Butzbaugh. Jim Pjesky, a probations officer with the State Department of Corrections, said that Pinkney did not deny writing the article but never meant it as a threat.

After claiming that it was a threat directed at him, Judge Butzbaugh recused himself from the case, leaving the way open for Wiley to hand down the severe decision. The decision was given by Wiley after claiming that the contents of the article written by Rev. Pinkney were not protected under U.S. constitutional rights to free speech and represented a threat.

Rev. Pinkney was visited by guards at 4:00 a.m. in the Berrien County Jail on July 3 and transported to Jackson Prison. Pinkney’s wife, Dorothy Pinkney, and his supporters in Benton Harbor say he will be transferred from Jackson to a permanent facility after 30 days.

Rev. Edward Pinkney has been a long-time activist in the Berrien County area. He became outspoken when increasing incidents of police misconduct and perceived judicial bias led to a mass rebellion during the summer of 2003. In the aftermath of the rebellion, Pinkney led a successful recall campaign against Glenn Yarborough, Benton Harbor City Commissioner.

Politicians in Berrien County, which includes Benton Harbor, Benton Township and the more affluent St. Joseph, have long been beholden to the Upton family, the owners of Whirpool Corp. In 2005 Rev. Pinkney set out to bring employment opportunities to Benton Harbor—unemployment is extremely high in this overwhelmingly majority African-American town.

After being blocked from carrying out this effort, BANCO organized the recall of Commissioner Yarborough. Soon afterwards, Rev. Pinkney, the BANCO leader, was charged with vote fraud and a Berrien County judge overturned the results of the recall vote.

A massive scheme to establish a so-called development project in Berrien County, utilizing land that could encroach on the African-American community in Benton Harbor, is moving straight ahead. It appears that authorities in the county are hoping that, with Rev. Pinkney likely to be locked away in prison for many years to come, they can get away with a greater relocation of the city’s African-American population.

The rate of foreclosure in Benton Harbor is astronomical. This is another mechanism to force large segments of the African-American people to abandon the city.

Activists in the Michigan area are planning activities where people can protest their outrage over the treatment of the local leader and organizer.

Police gun down two African Americans in Detroit

Meanwhile, in Detroit, Michigan’s largest city, two recent killings by police officers of African-American men have drawn attention to the fact that police are continuing their terrorist activity against the people despite two federal consent decrees, which have been in effect for five years.

On June 2, Tommy Staples Jr., 54, was shot several times in the head and back by Detroit police officers on the northwest side of the city. Police claim that Staples had a gun, but his daughter and son stated over the “Fighting for Justice” radio program hosted by the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality that Staples did not even own a gun.

In response to the killing of Staples, the community gathered on June 24 near the site of the shooting for a candlelight vigil and speak-out. Over 200 people—community residents as well as the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality—attended this event organized by the Staples family.

The family and friends of Staples are demanding that the two police officers involved in the shooting be charged with murder. The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality is also demanding that the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Officer pursue the case aggressively in order to uncover the circumstances surrounding the killing of this well-respected community resident and family man.

While the community began to mobilize around the death of Staples, another killing of a civilian by the police took place in the early morning hours of July 1. This time the victim was a 16-year-old named Sheldon Robert Bell. According to police, Bell attempted to carjack an off-duty police officer at a gasoline station located on the northwest side of the city.

This youth was reportedly shot eight times by the officer. Members of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality went to the scene of the shooting immediately and interviewed witnesses as well as members of the victim’s family. According to the coalition, the shooting of Bell raises serious questions involving the use of lethal force. Some witnesses claim that after the young man was hit by bullets and was lying face down, he was shot an additional four times at close range.

Repression escalates as economic crisis deepens

The state of Michigan has been one of the areas hardest hit by the economic downturn sweeping the United States. There have been massive layoffs in the automotive and other industrial sectors of the labor force. Since 2000 approximately 500,000 jobs have been lost in the state.

In addition, the state has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. At present the Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions is mounting a statewide campaign demanding the passage of Senate Bill 1306, sponsored by State Sen. Hansen Clarke.

Both the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and the Moratorium Now! Coalition see a direct relationship between the growing layoffs and foreclosures and the ongoing wars of occupation, the so-called war on terrorism and the adoption of torture as a method of interrogation by the United States.

The failure of the present system to offer people a living wage and the basic necessities of life is being enforced by the use of more deadly law-enforcement techniques by the local police agencies. Only a popular fightback campaign to confront both the growing economic downturn as well as the increasing repression by the police can provide any hope for the people to reverse the current situation.