Whirlpool Corporation has its world headquarters in Benton
Harbor. The city of St. Joseph, across the river, is nearly
all white with an income about 3-4 times that of Benton
Harbor residents. The people of Benton Harbor have had to
confront racism, corruption, cross burnings and a land-grab
of river and lake front property forcing local residents
out. Rev. and Mrs. Pinkney and the Black Autonomy Network
Community Organization have lead many protests against these
injustices and petition drives to recall local officials.
Rev. Pinkney’s activism has made him a target; his arrest
warrant on recent non-violent charges was served by a SWAT
team that surrounded his home at gunpoint.
recent trial seems like a re-run. In 2005 Rev. Pinkney led a
successful recall election against a city official closely
aligned with developers who had their eye on river and
lake-front property. The
power elite threw out the recall election results,
reinstated the official in question and accused Rev. Pinkney
of election fraud. In that case another all-white jury found
Rev. Pinkney guilty despite lack of evidence or credible
witnesses. He was to serve his time under house arrest. He
was subsequently sent to prison for quoting the Bible! The
judge said he considered the Bible quote a threat. Rev.
Pinkney was released on bond after a national campaign.
What you can do:
Rev. Pinkney is appealing this outrageous conviction. His
team needs to raise $20,000-25,000 for legal costs and to
get the word out. Can you help?
Please donate, go to http://www.bhbanco.org/ and
click on Donate.
Write also to: Judge Sterling Schrock, 811 Tort Street, St.
Joseph, MI 49085
Ask how can a person be
convicted of a crime with no evidence
and a jury that is motivated by something other than the
And please share this information with everyone you know.
Action Alert issued by Women of Color in the Global Women’s
Strike & the Global Women’s Strike
* * *
Press Release issued by Rev. Pinkney
Court Convicts Benton Harbor, Michigan, Community Activist
with No Evidence
St. Joseph, Michigan, November 6, 2014 — In Berrien County,
Michigan, a court has convicted veteran community activist
Rev. Edward Pinkney, 66, with no evidence.
On Monday, a jury found Pinkney guilty on five felony counts
of alleged election law violation after a week-long trial.
The county prosecutor, Mike Sepic, accused Pinkney of
changing dates next to signatures on a petition drive
seeking to recall Benton Harbor’s mayor, James Hightower.
The jury’s decision came despite the absence of any direct
evidence that Pinkney committed a crime. Numerous witnesses
who gathered petition signatures testified that some signers
changed dates next to their own names. Three witnesses
testified that they saw someone other than Pinkney changing
dates on the petitions after signatures were gathered. Mark
Goff, a forensic document examiner with the Michigan State
Police, testified that changes to the petitions were made in
different ink, but he could not determine when the changes
were made, by whom, or whether they were changed by the
signers themselves. No witness testimony nor physical
evidence supported the charges that Pinkney changed any
dates. Pinkney denies all charges.
“We were very surprised by the verdict,” said attorney Tat
Parish who represented Pinkney at the trial. “I believe
there was simply no evidence whatsoever that he did the
deed. The problem, of course, is that the prosecution was
allowed to argue that it was ‘circumstantial’ evidence.
Circumstantial evidence, as close as I can tell, is just a
suspicion. There will be an appeal.”
Sentencing is set for December 15. In an unrelated case, a
Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that election
fraud charges are misdemeanors, not felonies. In that case,
Brandon Hall, 25, confessed to election fraud and faces up
to a $500 fine and up to 93 days in jail for 10 counts of
misdemeanor election forgery. In contrast, Pinkney could
potentially be sentenced to 25 years in prison by Judge
Sterling Schrock, who instructed the jury on Friday that
“circumstantial evidence can be almost the same as direct
evidence.” Hall is white and Pinkney is African-American.
Although Benton Harbor is 96% African-American, no
African-Americans served on the jury for Pinkney’s trial.
Pinkney and other members of the Benton Harbor community
group, BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community
Organization), have lead multiple petition drives to recall
local officials as one strategy of their campaign to promote
democracy, civil rights, and economic justice in the county.
Whirlpool Corp. is headquartered in Benton Harbor, which has
among the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the
state. Mayor Hightower’s opposition to a city income tax
that would have affected Whirlpool resulted in the
community’s effort to recall him.
BANCO and Pinkney have protested the four emergency
managers, appointed by the governor under Michigan’s
controversial Emergency Manager Law, currently operating the
city instead of democratically-elected officials. BANCO was
also among the most vocal opponents of a golf course and
luxury development that appropriated lakeshore land formerly
designated as a Benton Harbor city park.
Pinkney believes his human rights activism has made him a
target of political persecution by Whirlpool and local
governments. In just one recent example, his arrest warrant
for non-violent charges was served by a SWAT team that
surrounded his home at gunpoint. Such tactics, he says, are
designed to intimidate all Benton Harbor residents who speak
up against Whirlpool and local officials. Prosecutor Sepic
questioned numerous witnesses at the trial about their
membership and involvement in BANCO, as if community
activism itself were on trial. Judge Schrock permitted the
line of questioning despite objections by the defense.
In a statement released Tuesday, Pinkney said, “They are
saying they don’t need evidence to send someone to prison.
Now everybody in Benton Harbor is in jeopardy. We have to
say enough is enough. Here, Whirlpool controls not only
Benton Harbor and the residents, but also the court system
itself. They will do anything to crush you if you stand up
to them. That’s why it’s so important to fight this.