The Michigan Board of Parole has announced that political prisoner the Rev. Edward Pinkney will be released on June 13. This is exactly two and a half years from the date of his sentencing and the minimum time in the two-and-a-half-to-10-year sentence of this 68-year-old African-American activist.
Rev. Pinkney had been a target for many years in the small town of Benton Harbor in western Michigan. He led protests against police brutality and misconduct. He exposed Whirlpool Corp., headquartered in Benton Harbor, for racism in hiring and layoffs. The giveaway of public park lands for a fancy private golf course was also a target of Rev. Pinkney’s organizing. Politicians who collaborated in these injustices found Rev. Pinkney in the streets campaigning for their recall.
In 2013, Rev. Pinkney led a petition campaign to recall then-Mayor James Hightower. Although more than enough petition signatures were turned in, the recall was never held. Berrien County’s prosecutor decided that the dates on several of the petitions had been altered and a judge threw out the entire recall effort.
Five felony charges of forgery were then brought against Rev. Pinkney, alleging that he had altered the petition dates, although absolutely no evidence implicated him — no confession, no witnesses and no forensic evidence!
A militarized SWAT team surrounded his home with weapons drawn in April 2014. Fortunately, Rev. Pinkney and his spouse, Dorothy Pinkney, were out to dinner and were warned away by neighbors. Many believe that, had he been home, he would have been killed. Later tried by a white prosecutor, a white judge and an all-white jury, he was found guilty.
Rev. Pinkney was transferred to different prisons across Michigan. During his stay in remote Marquette Branch Prison, 500 miles from family and friends, a national campaign was organized by his supporters, who exposed that racist prison guards had targeted him with threats of injury and death.
State high court responds to appeal
In August last year, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld Rev. Pinkney’s conviction in a bizarre opinion that based itself on the idea that Pinkney must be guilty because he had the most animosity to Mayor Hightower, the recall’s target. That decision was immediately appealed by Tim Holloway, Rev. Pinkney’s attorney.
With less than one month left to serve of Rev. Pinkney’s sentence, the Michigan Supreme Court has asked for further briefs to be filed. In an order dated May 17, the court requested more extensive written arguments on two points raised on appeal. One issue is “whether the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence … that related to the defendant’s political and community activities other than the mayoral recall effort for the purpose of showing the defendant’s motive to commit the instant crimes.”
The other issue involves whether a Michigan election law should be interpreted to include any person or just the election officials to whom the law clearly applies. This request for further briefs does not insure that Rev. Pinkney’s appeal will actually be heard, as the Michigan Supreme Court refuses to hear the vast majority of cases submitted to it. Nevertheless, Holloway wrote that the court order “definitely is a step in the right direction.”
Rev. Pinkney is eager to walk out of the prison doors on June 13 and resume his political activities. He especially wants to draw attention to the miserable and dangerous conditions inside the prisons and lend support to fellow inmates who gave him so much backing and protection while he was behind bars.
Supporters in southeast Michigan are preparing for a July 8 mass meeting in Detroit to welcome home this heroic community leader.