In 2012, three members of the Russian protest group known as Pussy Riot were arrested and convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after staging a punk rock protest of sorts in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Each member was given a two-year prison sentence. The relative severity of the sentence drew harsh criticism from organizations such as Amnesty International, and popular music stars, including Madonna, Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, and Björk.
Meanwhile in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the well-known black civil rights activist Reverend Edward Pinkney was charged with vote fraud in his attempt to gather signatures for a petition to have a recall election of Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower. In spite of a conspicuous lack of evidence that Reverend Pinkney had tampered with the petitions in any way, he was accused of changing the dates next to some of the signatures on the petition, and in the words of Bob Dylan, “the all-white jury agreed!” Yes, literally – an all-white jury convicted Pinkney of vote fraud in a town whose population is over 90% black, in a case in which absolutely no evidence was presented. Unlike the girls from Pussy Riot, however, Pinkney faces more than two or three years in prison. He faces life in prison for supposedly changing some dates on a recall petition, after being found guilty by an all-white jury after a trial in which no evidence of fraud on his part was found.
While we all wait for Bob Dylan to do a rewrite of his classic “Hurricane” in honor of Reverend Pinkney, perhaps we’ll hear a little outrage and protest from Madonna and Sir Paul. But I’m a realist – I’m not going to hold my breath too long!
Perhaps if Reverend Pinkney’s case could be spun to make Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad look bad, there would already be an Occupy Benton Harbor movement well underway. As things stand, however, support is growing, but time is running out.
Sentencing is set for December 15, 2014. Pinkney was found guilty on five felony counts of forgery, even though the prosecution could not produce any witnesses to testify that they saw Pinkney changing any dates or signatures on the recall petitions or otherwise engaging in any type of fraud.
According to Pinkney, “there is no evidence, period. The only thing they possibly had was that the petitions belong to me, but it was through several hands. They only had one target and that was me.”
One of the witnesses for the prosecution, Bridgett Gilmore, circulated recall petitions herself, while having no contact with Pinkney. She stated that two different pens with two different types of ink were used for some signatures because it was winter and the pens would sometimes freeze. Another witness for the prosecution, Majorie Carter, said that she “collected signatures for the recall from my apartment complex for seniors. One signer corrected a date on the petition.”
Mable Louise Avant testified that “Reverend Pinkney had nothing to do with the mistakes.”
“I could not believe they could find me guilty without evidence,” said Pinkney. “This case is about more than an all-white jury. It is a class situation. They attacked me because of my class. Now everybody in Benton Harbor is in jeopardy. They are saying they do not need evidence to send someone to prison. We have to say enough is enough. It’s time to take a stand.”
See: Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Michigan, by Abayomi Azikiwe. http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/11/11/legacy-of-racism-and-national-oppression-in-berrien-county/
According to historian and political analyst Dr. Webster G. Tarpley, this case, which amounts to little more than a frame-up of an innocent man, is a violation of the Helsinki Accords.
See: TARPLEY.net – Website of Webster Griffin Tarpley. http://tarpley.net/
Questions remain regarding the reasons for charging Pinkney with a felony in the first place. Under Michigan state law, violations such as these are misdemeanors, not felonies.
According to Reverend Pinkney, Mayor Hightower is “a puppet of the Whirlpool Corporation.”
Many of the town’s inhabitants once worked for Whirlpool, but those jobs have left the state, while Whirlpool has helped bring a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course to town. At the same time, Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan has sent an emergency manager to Benton Harbor to exercise near-dictatorial power over the local government, ensuring budget cuts, “asset stripping, union busting, and repeated fleecing of the taxpayer,” according to Brandon Turbeville of Activist Post.
Essentially, what happens in the Emergency Management process is, after the budget deficit balloons out of control and Emergency Managers are sent in, the elected officials (whether responsible for the deficits or not) are reduced to mere formalities for the policies being dictated to them by their Emergency Manager who is, in turn, merely an agent for those in higher places. When this occurs, elected officials may remain in order to placate and fool the public, but in other cases, such as with the School Board, elected officials may be removed altogether along with any pretense of representative government.”
“Drastic spending cuts are imposed on essential services while taxes are raised on the already strapped citizenry. Privatization runs rampant, allowing services and infrastructure that were once developed, maintained, and paid for by taxpayer money to be turned over to private companies…
See: State Emergency Managers Usher in IMF-style Austerity and Soviet-style Governance, by Brandon Turbeville. http://www.activistpost.com/2012/01/state-emergency-managers-usher-in-imf.html
“Over the years, we’ve witnessed a systematic remaking of the city around the class interests of the corporations. This effort has been led by.. Whirlpool,” said Pinkney.
In place of industry, Benton Harbor has become a Disneyland of Harbor Shores with the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course surrounded by expensive condominiums, hotels, playhouses and whatever toys the rich need. It has been a complete assault on the poor… This could not have happened without the help of Benton Harbor’s corporate puppets.”
“The Whirlpool Corporation believes every person, Blacks included, can be bought and sold for a price. And, some can… This includes Mayor James Hightower.
See: Now That the Factories Are Closed, It’s Tee Time in Benton Harbor, Mich., by Jonathan Mahler. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/magazine/benton-harbor.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Also see: Whirlpool rules a town through its corporate puppets, by Rev. Edward Pinkney. http://peoplestribune.org/pt-news/2014/09/whirlpool-rules-town-corporate-puppets/
Whether or not Pinkney ends up serving a long prison sentence, he has no plans to quit the fight against the corporate control of the local government:
We want them to understand this fight is going to continue with or without me (and) in that sense, I am happy today, because people can take a good look at this system. It’s a class war. It’s us against them. Rich against poor, that’s what it adds up to. The point is we have to take a stand. It’s about you, your children and your grandchildren. I never thought for a minute that the system could be broken and would go to this extreme.
Reverend Edward Pinkney can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Send letters to the judge ASAP. Sentencing is Dec. 15, and your letter needs to arrive before that date:
How you can help #FreePinkney:
Please print and distribute this flyer:
On the significance of the Rev. Edward Pinkney trial:
Truth on the Tracks with Brandon Turbeville, guest Rev. Pinkney disussing his case 12-1-2014:
GCAS interview with Rev. Pinkney:
#FreePinkney – Tools for Activists:
Guest Rev. Pinkney Discussing Detroit Bankruptcy, Benton Harbor & US Austerity – End the Lie Ep. 65:
Whirlpool Corporation – Neglect pays off: