Organization Calls for Demonstration in Benton Harbor

BANCO–an organization fighting injustice and racism in Benton Harbor–has announced plans for a July 2008 “mass demonstration” against a sentence handed down against community organizer Rev. Edward Pinkney.

BANCO, who has been organizing for years against racism and injustice in Benton Harbor, Michigan, has issued the following call for a “mass demonstration” to protest community organizer Rev. Edward Pinkney’s sentence in a recent court case. Many watching the case have argued that it is part of a system of injustice and racism in Benton Harbor. The call is reprinted below:

Mark your calendars for a Mass Demonstration in Benton Harbor on July 19, 2008

We will be coming together to demand an end to police brutality and court corruption in Berrien County and to support the oppressed immigrants and workers everywhere. We need every hand on board in the fight against fascism and corruption. Now is the time to fight for our constitution.

Rev. Edward Pinkney is under house arrest for FIVE years, wearing an electronic tether. His crime? Exposing the unchecked greed and racism of Michigan’s Berrien County: law enforcement, courts, Whirlpool Corporation, media…

Many here in Berrien County have been suffering for years under a court system which is bought and paid for by unholy political alliances and corrupt influences. Here and in many other parts of the country a fair and impartial trial as promised to us by our laws and constitution is a pipe dream.

Though judges, prosecutors and police officers take oaths to protect our rights and sovereignty many officials of our legal system are instead bought, sealed, and delivered by special interest groups such as Whirlpool. It is time to expose this corruption and demand that our officials work for us and not for bribes. They are our employees. We the People must hold them accountable.

Judge Alfred Butzbaugh has been known in southwest Michigan as entirely corrupt. He has blatantly perjured himself and disenfranchised many innocent residents of Berrien County from their legal and constitutional right to a fair trial by a jury of their peers. Many families have been destroyed through his shameless machinations in the interests of the wealthy and privileged while he has trampled on the poor and the working class. He routinely selects white and middle-class juries to sit for cases involving people of color. This is in clear violation of his duty to provide an impartial jury of peers for defendants. Judge Butzbaugh turned a blind eye as prosecutor Gerald Vignasky bribed, threatened and coerced witnesses to skew the evidence against Reverend Pinkney during his so-called trial. This is the norm with Judge Butzbaugh and not the exception.

The only recourse now functioning are State Judicial Tenure Commissioner and the Attorney Grievance Commission. These have been exposed repeatedly as ineffectual and dishonest. Our very way of life is at risk because of the corrupt court system and Americans need to wake up to this. They need to face the fact that even our media is owned and operated for the benefit of the few. The Harold Palladium which is supposedly a St. Joseph/Benton Harbor paper is owned by the Paxton Media Group, well known for its promotion of racism. Please write or call them and demand fair coverage for the issues now plaguing Benton Harbor. (info below)

If we want to change the system then we must confront our oppressors. Join us in exercising our patriotic freedom to peaceably assemble. Demand that our courts be cleaned up now and that our taxes stop going into the pockets of liars and crooks. Someday it could be you standing in front of such a judge and such a jury—a court fixed from the start to lie, defame and defraud us of our rights.

Together we can overcome. Together we can make a difference. It’s our money and our courts. Stand with us on July 19 in Benton Harbor.

A positive step would be Elected Police Oversight Boards with subpoena power in all Michigan cities. Information is on the web, one place being the Albuquerque, NM site:

http://www.cabq.gov/council/abqrpt9.html

http://www.cabq.gov/council/apdrpt.html

Gov. Granholm has the ability to pardon Pinkney or commute his sentence. All individuals and organizations are urged to immediately sign up, write letters, etc., in favor of clemency. We already have hundreds and hundreds of letters that we obtained for sentencing. We need updated letters. Benton Harbor and Pinkney need many letters (5000 would be fantastic) sent to:

ATTORNEY

Hugh Davis Constitutional litigation

450 West Fort St.

Detroit, MI 48226

Governor Granholm

P. O. BOX 30013

LANSING, MICHIGAN 48909

517-335-6790

Legal Fee Donations (non-profit so it’s tax-deductible):

BANCO

1940 Union St.

Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Herald Palladium Newspaper (letters to the editor)

P.O. Box 128

St. Joseph, Michigan 49085

800-356-4262

Whirlpool Corp. (World Headquarters and N. America Region)

2000 N. M-63

Benton Harbor, Michigan 49022-2692

269-923-5000

Support Rev. Pinkney and Sign Petition:

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/624471377

Boycott Whirlpool and it’s subsidiaries: Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana, Gladiator, GarageWorks, Inglis, Estate, Roper, Magic Chef, Acros, Supermatic. ABROAD – Bauknecht, Brastemp, Consul, Eslabon de Lujo.

Buy NON-Whirlpool brands! – Frigidaire, General Electric, LG, Samsung, Viking, Subzero, Dacor, some Kenmore, Electrolux, etc.

bhbanco.blogspot.com (feel free to post comments)

“For the Children”: Class, Race, Place, and Late Capitalist Eco-Enclosure in Benton Harbor

“One of the great gifts we can give our children is to make sure they connect with the amazing natural resources we have in Michigan. Whether we take them fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain-biking or simply let them discover the beauty of nature, helping our children connect with the outdoors is essential to making sure our natural resources are protected and respected in the future.”

– Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, March 2007 (Niles Daily Star, 2007)

“Here is another case of the rich taking from the poor, while those we have elected to protect our best interests, including our governor, tout what a great thing it will be for the community….The rich will get richer, while the working class and poor lose a little more of what they already have little access to: the lake. Soon, if developers have their way, there will be no such thing as public parks or scenic lake views in Michigan for the masses to enjoy.”

– Michigan resident Mary Smith, August 10, 2007 (Smith 2007)

“We’re using economic development to change people’s lives.”

– David Whitwam, former CEO of Whirlpool, July 2007

DISASTER AS BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY

Beneath the violence and related social and ecological crises that are so endemic in the age of what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism” (Klein 2007), diligent investigators can always discover the hidden machinations of “the business community.” The headlines on Iraq focus on the twists and turns of Washington’s game and the gory events on the ground. Behind those terrible stories and off dominant media’s radar screen, however, the United States’ occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan generate a steady flow of capitalist return to strategically placed corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, Halliburton, Blackwater USA, and General Dynamics. Meanwhile giant western oil companies scheme to extract future super-profits from the petroleum fields of Mesopotamia. They have acted behind the scenes to shape a draft Iraqi Petroleum Law they hope someday will favor such an outcome.

Hurricane Katrina provides another terrible example. When most Americans think of Katrina, their minds flash to shocking images of bloated bodies and scenes of desperation at the New Orleans Convention Center and Superdome. But there was and is a deeper Katrina story hidden from public view. As Greg Palast notes:

“The corpses floating through the Ninth Ward attracted vultures. There was ChoicePoint. They picked up a contract to identify the bodies using their War on Terror DNA database. In the face of tragedy, America’s business community pulled together, lobbying hard to remove the ‘Davis-Bacon’ regulation that guarantees emergency workers receive a minimum prevailing wage. Within the week, the Navy penned a half-billion contract for construction work with Halliburton. More would come.”

“Our President, as he does in any emergency situation, announced additional tax cuts. He ordered immediate write-offs for new equipment used in rebuilding. That will likely provide a relief for Halliburton, but the deductions were useless to small New Orleans businesses which had no incomes to write off. The oil majors, the trillion dollar babies, won a $700 million tax break.”

“Don’t think of hurricanes as horrors, “Palast writes, “but as [business] opportunities” (Palast 2007, p. 321).

“BECAUSE OF EVERYTHING’S THAT’S BEEN GOING ON FOR YEARS”

A smaller example can be found in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a desperately poor and 92 percent black town directly adjacent to Lake Michigan. Containing 11,000 people and located 100 miles east of Chicago, Benton Harbor is an especially graphic reminder that concentrated racial oppression lives beyond the metropolitan core. The town was designated “the worst place to live in the nation” by Money Magazine in 1989. Even at the end of the long 1990s “Clinton Boom,” more than half of Benton Harbor’s children and 40 percent of its families lived in official poverty. The city’s poverty rate was three and a half times that of the U.S. as a whole. Median family income in Benton Harbor was $19, 250, just more than two-thirds of the minimum basic family budget (the real cost of being poor, as meticulously calculated by The Economic Policy Institute) for one single parent and two children living there: $28, 422. According to one Benton Harbor minister, less than one in three adult Benton Harbor males was employed in the spring of 2003 (Koltowitz 1998; U.S. Census 2000; Boushey et al. 2001).

The concentrated misery in Benton Harbor stands in sharply incongruous contrast to the picturesque lakefront properties, beaches and rustic terrain that surround the town in scenic Berrien County. That 80 percent white county’s family poverty rate (9 percent) and median family income ($47,000) are roughly proximate to those of the nation as a whole (U.S. Census 2000).

The last time that Benton Harbor received national media attention came in the second week of June 2003. That’s when it hosted the second significant racial disturbance to occur in the United States since the September 2001 terror attacks supposedly united all Americans in opposition to terrorist enemies (the first occurred in Cincinnati late in the same month as the jetliner attacks, in response to the acquittal of a policeman who killed an unarmed black youth (Walsh 2001). For two nights following the death of a young black motorcyclist, Terrence Shurn, in a police chase, hundreds of Benton Harbor residents roamed an eight-block area, some setting fires and attacking passers-by (Wilgoren 2003, Mastony and Quintilla 2003, Christoff and Hackney 2003, Guerrero 2003; Street 2003). As the New York Times reported in a front page story, “rioters were chanting, ‘no justice, no peace,’ as they overturned vehicles, tossed small firebombs into houses, and shattered windows with bottles and rocks, injuring 12 people” (Wilgoren 2003). The rioting “was so intense,” the Chicago Tribune reported, “that fire trucks and squad cars were peppered by several shotgun blasts, and were pelted with bricks before they retreated. Benton Harbor Township police said they fired several shots into the crowd, but no one was struck” (Mastony and Quintilla 2003).

Within two days, Benton Harbor was under governor-ordered military occupation. A large police force including hundreds of officers from the Michigan State Police and other local jurisdictions stormed the town in full riot gear, with armored vehicles, tactical units, assault rifles, and a helicopter with a sweep light that continually circled the riot zone. According to the Chicago Tribune, the scene “was reminiscent” of the 1960s, “when major cities such as Chicago saw some neighborhoods burn in a wave of urban violence.” On Chicago television screens and newspapers, pictures of the confrontation between the forces of order and angry mobs in occupied Benton Harbor were juxtaposed with similar images from occupied Iraq, suggesting dark connections between the war (on poor people) at home and the war (for empire) abroad. Just miles away, the waves of the great inland sea Lake Michigan lapped up onto a beautiful shore. Vacationers there struggled a bit more usual with trying to continue ignoring the tragedies of daily existence in abandoned communities like Benton Harbor.

“There have been these forgotten places of America since the 1960s – towns that are left out because they were created for reasons that no longer exist,” Pepperdine University researcher Joel Kotkin told the London Financial Times. “Then something like Benton Harbor happens and people are suddenly reminded of their existence” (Grant 2003).

“Years of Frustration”

In the simple-minded story provided by Chicago television news, the riot erupted as an immediate, Pavlovian response to Shurn’s death. The reality is far more complex. Despite the New York Times’ misleading page-one headline – “Fatal Police Chase Ignites a Rampage in Michigan Town” (Wilgoren 2003) – print media accounts suggest that the violence really emerged only after Benton Harbor police moved to disperse a peaceful crowd of candle-holding mourners, gathered for prayer at the site of Shurn’s death. As Latonya Doss told the Detroit Free Press, tempers escalated when the police threatened to arrest a group of 50 people holding a prayer vigil. “We weren’t loud,” says Doss. “We were singing church songs” (Christoff and Hackney 2003).

The Chicago Tribune’s main article on the events in Benton Harbor claimed that “the rioting erupted in reaction” to Shurn’s death. Deeper in the article, however, the paper noted that that “later Monday, a crowd of mourners gathered at the crash site, which was still being investigated. Additional police cars were summoned to the scene, mostly to disperse the crowds that had gathered with candles. Some prayed at the site and then became angry when authorities told them to go home. That’s when the fires began, officials said” (Mastony and Qunitilla 2003). Disperse mourners! By interrupting this peaceful demonstration, police needlessly exacerbated a tense situation, turning candles of prayer into firebombs of rage.

At the same time, nobody familiar with the racially disparate facts of life in and around Benton Harbor was exactly shocked to hear that significant violence had broken out there. As Ashley Black, Shurn’s cousin, told the Chicago Sun Times, “this isn’t just because of what happened Monday. This is because of everything that has been happening in Benton Harbor for years…you are talking about years of frustration” (Guerrero 2003).

Benton Harbor had been in dire straits for more than a generation. Prior to the Vietnam era, it was a thriving community, host to what Alex Kolotowitz called (in his widely read 1998 book The Other Side of the River) “a flurry of manufacturing activity, most of it centered on the automobile – foundries and parts plants primarily” There were enough decent blue-collar jobs in and around Benton Harbor to attract a modest local black working-class, which accounted for a quarter of the town’s population in 1960 (Koltowitz 1998)

In the Sixties and Seventies, however, Benton Harbor lost its downtown department stores to a newly constructed mall outside town. Corporate globalization and domestic de- industrialization eliminated many of its foundries and part plants. As one local historian puts it, “in the late 1960s and 1970s, Benton Harbor began to lose its longstanding manufacturing base to cheaper labor states” (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007a) The city’s biracial working class lost its economic lifeblood to capital’s quest to boost profit rates by finding more readily exploitable workers and lower taxes in other places.

At the same time, “urban renewal” scattered Benton Harbor’s black population, previously concentrated in a low-lying area next to the St. Joseph River. “Whites, uneasy with their new neighbors, fled,” notes Koltowitz, “many of them simply skipping over the river to St. Joseph. Institutions followed, including the newspaper, the YMCA, the hospital, even the local FBI offices. Each had its own reason, which at the time made sense, but in the end, after they’d drifted off, like geese going south, the reasons sounded more like excuses” (Koltowitz 1998, p. 31).

It’s a familiar story for those who study race, class, and industrial relations in post-WWII America: the burden of corporate disinvestment’s negative social consequences falling with racially disparate weight on blacks, who lack the same resources and freedom as whites to move up and out of communities and occupations rendered obsolete by the supposedly benevolent workings of the “free market,” sold to us as the solution to all problems social, political, and personal by the architects of American policy and opinion (Massey 1993, Wilson 1987, Wilson 1996, Street 2007).

“THE DREAM OF DEVELOPERS AND WHIRLPOOL EXECUTIVES FOR MORE THAN A DECADE”: RIOTS AS A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY

Business decisions contributed significantly to the latent racial and socioeconomic frustrations that exploded in Benton Harbor four summers ago. More than merely creating critical background for the riots, however, key private-sector decision-makers have been busy since seeking to turn the 2003 disturbances into a business and leisure-class opportunity for the privileged white few. Their effort takes special aim at natural and recreational resources that hold special value for many among the town’s predominantly black populace. It is spearheaded by the multinational appliance corporation Whirlpool, which maintains its global headquarters in Benton Harbor and is a specially prized asset in the eyes of Michigan state officials starting with Governor Jennifer Granholm – a relevant fact to which we shall return.

“A Gift for the Children”

If there has ever been any significant and distinctive local compensation for the difficulty of black life in racially Benton Harbor, many residents report, it is Jean Klock Park (JKP). In 1917, John Nellis Klock and his wife Carrie purchased and then deeded a pristine 90-acre parcel of Lake Michigan frontage property to the City of Benton Harbor. The terms of the deed require that the property be used exclusively and forever as a public park and bathing beach. The splendid stretch of land was dedicated “For the Children.” It was named “Jean Klock Park” in memory of the Klocks’ deceased daughter, who died in infancy (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007). As the local organization “Friends of Jean Klock Park” (FOJKP) notes in a carefully researched history of the unique lakefront park, “it was never intended to be a profit center” (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007a). The Klocks’ intent is remarkably well-know and kept in community memory. Everyone knows the story.

While it is located at some distance from the city’s highly segregated black residential area, the park has long been used by black Benton Harborites for family reunions, church picnics, and baptisms (Friends of Jean Klock Park to Governor Granholm 2006). It is considered a special place where residents of the city’s hard-pressed neighborhoods – as poor as almost any in the nation – can “get away” and commune with nature. When I visited JKP in late August of 2007, I met and spoke briefly with a 60-year-old African-American gentleman who visited regularly to look across the lake with a pair of binoculars and to close his eyes and “feel the wind and the breeze.” Thirty yards away a young black mother listened to her car radio while her two young children frolicked in the sand. A thirty-something black man read the newspaper and gazed across the lake at the barely visible silhouette of Chicago’s skyscrapers. As local resident Emma Kinnard recently told Michigan Radio, the park “was a beautiful gift that was given to us…..Some things you can see the beauty of what God has created” (Duffy 2007).

JKP also holds precious value for environmentalists and human ecology. The park’s boundaries contain a half mile of stellar Lake Michigan shoreline and include three threatened ecological communities: Great Lakes Open Dunes, Great Lakes Marsh, and Interdunal Wetlands. Marshes and wetlands hold special importance because of their vital role in filtering and purifying groundwater, containing erosion and preventing floods. A threatened plant species, rose pink, thrives there, as it did during the Klocks’ time.

Another JKP stakeholder is the public sector. Soon after the park was established, the State proposed to the community that JKP be used as a state park, but Benton Harbor, then a very progressive, mostly white community, refused and reiterated the donors’ intent and the community commitment to maintaining it as a city park in perpetuity. By the early 1990s, the state and federal government together poured $1.7 million in grant funds to develop park amenities and conserve the park’s natural resources. The public monies invested in JKP have always come with restrictions stipulating “public ownership and use of public lands” (FOJKP 2007, FOJKP 2007a).

“A Site for Dogfights and Drug Deals”

Reflecting the broader pattern of racial separatism that infects Southwest Michigan as well as most of the rest of the U.S., JKP has developed over time into the area’s one and only “black beach.” Revered as a special recreational, therapeutic and spiritual haven by numerous long-time black residents, it has been demonized by local whites as an “underclass” menace. A recent issue of Midwest Real Estate News summarizes conventional Caucasian wisdom in Benton Township when it refers to JKP as “an underutilized Lake Michigan beachfront gem. The property,” this developer organ says, “is fairly isolated and when it developed a reputation as a site for dogfights and drug deals, most of Benton Harbor’s residents stayed away.” (Brody 2007).

Business, City, and Media Machinations

But one person’s place of beauty and serenity is another person’s (or corporation’s) commercial prospect. And one environmentalist’s concern for sound and beautiful ecology is another person’s barrier to “development.” Given its potential as a profit center for real estate interests and its strategic position between two stretches of favored, upper-end real estate inhabited by Benton Township’s and City of St. Joseph’s staunchly Republican and heavily white business elite, the all-too black, poor, and public JKP has long been targeted for Caucasian enclosure. A number of key local business players, aided by compliant city managers and elected officials, began planning during the middle and late 1980s to convert a large section of the park into some version of a massive, commercial development, changing through the years to the current plan – three holes of a privately owned golf course that would primarily serve affluent white residents and visitors. The leading agents of this endeavor in recent years include former Whirlpool CEO and onetime corporate globalization guru David Whitwam (see Maruca 1994) current Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig and the “Cornerstone Alliance” – an inter-municipal Southwest Michigan chamber of commerce founded by Whirlpool to “generate economic growth and promote civic development” (Cornerstone Alliance 2007).

The Cornerstone Alliance (hereafter “Cornerstone”) describes itself as “an investor-driven organization committed to improving the economic wealth of our community” and “supporting the preparation of local business leaders to sustain positive change” (Cornerstone Alliance 2007As far as local activists affiliated with Friends of Jean Klock Park (FOJKP) are concerned, Cornerstone is “Whirlpool, Junior” and its mission statement has a useful translation: “an investor-driven organization dedicated to creating a veneer of community concern to cloak corporate assault on public property, the environment and non-affluent peoples’ right to enjoy nature.”

FOJKP was formed in 2003, when Benton Harbor’s officials tried to remedy the city’s chronic post-industrial budgetary shortfalls by selling a nine-acre parcel of the lakefront to a local group for residential development under the name “Grand Boulevard, Inc.” FOJKP filed a lawsuit to stop the deal, leading to a mediated Settlement Agreement and subsequent Consent Decree permitting the city to sell four acres for luxury homes but ordering that the remainder of the park would be protected from “further sales or development for purposes other than park purposes” (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007a).

During this litigation, FOJKP members worried that Whirlpool and Cornerstone were behind “Grand Boulevard.” The activists’ suspicions deepened when an activist found an “Edgewater Development Plan” presentation board that had been left behind from a Cornerstone meeting in a local art gallery. Dating from the late 1990s, the planning document laid out a future “Grand Boulevard Development” and ominously marked out a large section of the park for so-called “recreational improvements.” The bottom of the board read:

“EDGEWATER DEVELOPMENT GROUP

CITIES OF BENTON HARBOR AND ST, JOSPH

WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION, CORNERSTONE ALLIANCE”

Local concerns with developer plots intensified when “Grand Boulevard, Inc.” conversion, approved by the State and the National Park Service, allowed the City to replace the lost parkland with parcels along the nearby Paw Paw River and with abandoned post-industrial fields in the city’s unappealing downtown. Some of these nowhere zones were contaminated with lead and off limits to children (Friends of Jean Klock Park 2007b).

Things got weirder still just before Christmas in 2004. That’s when the local business-dominated newspaper, The Herald Palladium, ran a front-page story announcing plans for a massive (500 acre) lakefront development called “River Run.” The project’s leaders were identified as Whirlpool and Cornerstone. Titled “Road Map to the Future?,” the article was accompanied by a map that did not include JKP in its boundaries (Herald-Palladium 2004).

Five months later, The Herald-Palladium made the same deletion from a map inserted within a laudatory story titled “River Run Project Aims for Balance.” The story included a quote from Whirlpool Vice President Jeff Noel, who claimed that “River Run” planning contained “no preconceived notions as to boundaries” (Swidwa 2005). Shortly after the first Herald-Palladium article, however, local activists learned that Whirlpool and Cornerstone were planning to build part of a golf course on the park. And in the spring of 2005, FOJKP members obtained a “brownfield development” plan including a map displaying two golf course holes on JKP property.

As the word got out about the hidden private threat to the public park, local residents and activists flooded the paper with letters demanding truthful reporting about the planned assault on citizen property deeded for permanent public use. Activists went to the paper with copies of the “brownfield development” map, but Herald-Palladium dismissed their letters, claiming they were based on nothing more than “rumor” (FOJKP 2007b)

The “Power to Attract People”

Early in July of 2005, however, the paper printed a story titled “Fight for Klock” and showing a map of JKP containing sections of a golf course (Swidwa 2005a). Six days before this belated bow to the principle of journalistic accuracy regarding plans long in the making, the city’s bribed and bullied commissioners approved the “River Run” – subsequently re-named “Harbor Shores” – “development” plan (FOJKP 2007b). And last January, city “leaders” signed a final lease agreement with Harbor Shores that abrogated the founding Klock deed (FOJKP 2007) and the Consent Judgment. The contract would essentially enclose three-fourths of the public park’s remaining 73 acres so that three holes of a “Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course” can entice affluent clients with sweeping views of Lake Michigan. Leading PGA Republican Jack “Golden Bear” Nicklaus, who recently visited Benton Harbor to see the beautiful park for himself, claimed that it would be impossible to attract golfers to his new Harbor Shores course without the spectacular lake vistas afforded by invasion of the JKP commons. “If you took Pebble Beach’s ocean holes away,” Nicklaus explained, “it would be just another golf course. The whole idea is to create a mousetrap that the mice are enticed into. To not use the lake or some of that area [JKP that is] you would lose 90 percent of your power to attract people” (Arend 2007).

“To Change the Image from an Industrial Kind of City”

According to Benton Harbor City Manager Dwight Mitchell, the dismemberment and privatization of Jean Klock Park is “the key to changing the city’s future. We want,” Mitchell recently told Michigan Radio, “to change the image from an industrial kind of city to a tourist kind of location that people want to visit and stop because of the amenities that we have here so that’s going to change the whole complexion of the community” (Duffy 2007). Never mind that cutting-edge corporate globalizer Whirlpool – which markets in 140 countries, maintains 13 manufacturing facilities throughout the world (see Martin et al. 2000) and retains only one factory (employing 300) in Benton Harbor (where its large-scale manufacturing operations were concentrated through most of the 20th century) – long ago helped change the town from “an industrial kind of city” to a center of extreme poverty and joblessness. “Complexion” was an interesting word choice on the part of the technically black Mitchell, who is “working with Whirlpool, developers and some non-profits not to promote the park, but to build a resort on and around it. Harbor Shores,” Michigan Radio notes, “will be a $500 million golf course, hotel, marina, and luxury home development….a lakeshore resort just 90 miles from Chicago, perfect for a second home [emphasis added], and with a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course” (Duffy 2007). The design plan is an essentially gated community (FOJKP 2007c), setting up forbidding barriers of race and class to keep the city’s disproportionately black and poor residents away from the privileged white visitors and home-buyers that Whirlpool and Cornerstone (whose treasurer is Whitwam’s son) wish to bring to the city’s charming western shore, which contrasts so poignantly with the vacant lots, boarded-up buildings, and dilapidated first (and only) homes in the downtown and the adjacent hyper-segregated neighborhoods of inner Benton Harbor.

“The golf course,” Michigan Radio adds, “has been the dream of Whirlpool Executives and developers for more than decade, but getting all the necessary permits and approvals to build on the park land was difficult” (Duffy 2007). Fittingly enough, former Whirlpool CEO Whitwam (who enjoys a sumptuous mansion close to JKP) is the head of Harbor Shores, which is candidly described as “the pet project of Whirlpool Corp” by Midwest Real Estate News (Brody 2007). Also fittingly enough, Nicklaus is something of a globalizer himself. He is the head of Nicklaus Design, which operates 316 courses in 30 countries as well as 38 U.S. states (Arend 2007).

“Put those Gorillas Back in the Woods”: Whirlpool’s “Pipe Dream” Gets “a Golden Touch From the Golden Bear”

According to a glowing article that appeared in the South Bend Tribune last August, the park where generations of Benton Harborites have communed with nature and each other “could be sacred ground to area golfers” by “the summer of 2009.” By the paper’s account (Wozniak 2007):

“Huge pieces of machinery are lined up around Jean Klock Park, ready to move heaven closer to earth with a gem of a golf course in the Harbor Shores development project. Sunday, what was once a pipe dream got a golden touch from a Golden Bear. Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus arrived in Benton Harbor for the first time to tour what will ultimately become one his signature golf course designs. Sitting in front of a weed-strewn field that eventually become the driving range of Southwest Michigan’s future golf gem, Nicklaus offered his vision of what golfers can expect: ‘This site will absolutely change overnight,’ said Nicklaus…Nicklaus, who will be a frequent visitor during the construction period, is planning for the course to play about 7,100 yards from the back tees, but he prefers to keep the blue tees in the 6,300-6,600 yard range for the average golfers. ‘These days, you’re designing the courses for Tiger Woods or guys that play like him. These kids today hit the ball nine miles,’ he said. ‘The game is to make sure the average golfer has the ability to play your golf course, enjoy it and have fun. Then you put those gorillas back in the woods and let them hit is as hard as they want.'”

According to South Bend Tribune reporter Steve Wozniak, “a steep ravine leading up to the dunes above the beach at Jean Klock Park will provide golfers with a panoramic view of the Lake Michigan from the No. 7 green” (Wozniak 2007) – an amenity that Nicklaus insisted is necessary for his project to attract players. A call to Nicklaus Design about the “signature” designation revealed no such requirement.

CORPORATE JUSTIFICATIONS

“No One Uses the Park”

Whirlpool and its allies seek to justify this notable act of racialized commons enclosure with four basic arguments. The first rationalization claims that “no one uses the park,” as Cornerstone and (just for the JKP heist) City attorney Geoff Fields, told the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board (MNRTFB) while seeking that agency’s approval (granted in the October 2006) for the assault on JKP. Fields tried to “prove” this claim by showing the MNRTFB an enlarged photograph of a momentarily empty portion of the park (FOJKP to Granholm 2006).

As a group of residents told Governor Granholm in September of 2006, “this blatant lie is a disgrace. We use Jean Klock Park for recreational activities of all kinds, for church suppers, family reunions, picnics, senior citizen outings, weddings, baptisms, school field trips, festivals, concerts, and of course general public use of the beach. The dunes are an important part of the park, providing a peaceful setting for these activities and an environment for our children to explore nature” (FOJKP to Granholm 2006)

What Fields really meant to say was that “no one who matters in profit-focused white America uses the park.” JKP might hold critical cultural, social and ecological use value for the mainly black residents of Benton Harbor and the natural environment we all share. But for Whirlpool and allied regional business interests, it is an idle “brownfield” loaded with untapped exchange and leisure value and excessive blackness – a dysfunctionally “undeveloped” piece of illegitimate commons that needs to be “saved” for profitable use by great white men of capital

Mendacious “Mitigation”

The second justification claims that only 25 percent of the park would actually be enclosed for the golf course, leaving the rest for public use. The problem here is that all the rest of JKP except the sandy beach would be circled by golf holes and therefore unusable.

The third justification is that Harbor Shores would replace parkland taken from JKP with replacement parkland for an “expanded” JPK. The project would donate eight such allotments with a total of 47 acres (Because state and federal money was used to develop the park in the past, the city is required to donate land to the city to replace lost parkland.) One difficulty here is that the “mitigation parcels” are scattered and non-contiguous. Many of them are landlocked within the broader golf course (15 holes of which are beyond JKP’s original boundaries) and some of the “mitigation” parkland” is located in St. Joseph and consists, the Detroit Free Press reports, “of walkways through the middle of a proposed marina-townhouse development. All but one of the parcels,” reporter Tina Lam adds, “are contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals (Lam 2007). Some parcels are already owned by the city, being sold to Harbor Shores only to be donated back to the city in a transparent scam. The residents would lose valuable parkland and get nothing in return. The “mitigation math” behind the process is based on an appraisal that severely underestimates the value of the park, which is priceless to begin with.

And of course no amount of superficially green “mitigation” can make up for the lost ecological benefits of destroyed marshes and wetlands or for the considerable ecological damage that will be inflicted by the construction and maintenance of a large, heavily fertilized golf course, which can be counted on to pour a large and steady stream of noxious, nitrogen – intensive run-off into local water supplies. In addition, an eighteen-hole “state of the art” golf course can be counted on to require and wastefully use tens of millions of gallons of water each year (see Burke, Luecke, and Young 2003).

The park’s proposed “conversion” (theft and privatization) is still under consideration by the National Park Service – the one federal agency that has a major say in the park’s fate.

“To Benefit the Community”

The fourth and most important justification is that Harbor Shores would provide jobs and development that would alleviate the misery and oppression that gave rise to violence in the spring of 2003. “After riots in 2003 garnered international attention,” Midwest Real Estate News reporter Megan Brody claimed last July, “it was obvious to local leaders that the Lake Michigan community was in dire need of change. The town has remained popular as a traditional summer destination, but many year-round residents never repeated the benefits of the seasonal dollars.” Harbor Shores and its golf course are “designed,” Brody wrote, “to jump start the economy in a struggling Michigan town” (Brody 2007).

Brody deepened her service to Benton Harbor’s business-based powers that be by uncritically quoting Harbor Shores chief Whitwam on Whirlpool’s supposedly benevolent intentions in the following passage: ” ‘We’re using economic development to change people’s lives,’ says David Whitwam, trustee and chairman of Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc. [HSCRI], the project’s nonprofit developer. The hope is it will bring temporary construction jobs, permanent jobs and an increased tax base to the community…’We’ve been thinking about this to benefit the community'” (Brody 2007). According to the Herald-Palladium, in an admiring story honoring Nicklaus’ visit to Benton Harbor in the summer of 2007, Harbor Shores – whose full success is supposedly contingent on the invasion of JKP – will create 4,000 jobs over five years of construction and 2,000 permanent positions thereafter (Arend 2007).

HSCRI started with a $12 million loan from Whirlpool. The “nonprofit” has recently received a $9.2 million tax break from Governor Granholm.

To buttress its curious claim of altruistic concern, Whirlpool has included a number of supposed social service organizations it has largely created in the partnership of groups that “comprise Harbor Shores.” These intriguing institutions include a mysterious, Cornerstone-affiliated entity called “The Alliance for World Class Communities (AWCC),” whose vision statement calls for “an inclusive environment where the richness of our differences are viewed as strengths and where all citizens are prepared and contributing to our interdependent, world-class communities.” The Benton Harbor-based AWWC includes among its partner organizations a Berrien County outfit called “The Council for World-Class Communities,” which describes itself as “a nonprofit community development organization guided by the principles of collaboration and diversity with inclusion.” Another ACCW partner is a Cornerstone-linked organization called “The Center for Progressive Change” (CPC). CPC’s mission is to implement the vague, pro-“development” and -“inclusion” recommendations of Governor Jennifer M. Granholm’s Benton Harbor Task Force, another arm of the Harbor Shores developers, formed in the wake of the riots (all of these groups and their mission statements are linked off Cornerstone’s website: http://www.cornerstonechamber.com).

But Whitwam, Brody, and Whirlpool’s statements of loving community kindness sparked by the disturbances of 2003 are more than a little disingenuous. Desperately poor and predominantly black Benton Harbor stopped being a “popular summertime destination” many years ago. As one former Benton Harbor resident who prefers to remain anonymous notes, moreover, “we have proof that Whirlpool has been after the park and waterfront since at least 1987.” In a section marked “Jean Klock Park” from a 1987 document titled Waterfront Redevelopment Study, City of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Consultants’ Final Report, Study completed for City of Benton Harbor and Southwestern Michigan Commission, an “outside expert” hired by the city wrote the following:

“Detailed recommendations for these two sections are difficult to formulate at present since the future of these lands depends to some extent on the nature and extent of the developments undertaken by the Whirlpool Corporation in the adjacent St. Joseph Special Development Area. However, an essential principle of the redevelopment must be that Section 8, the lake front section, should remain a public park. High priority should be given to developing a master plan for this section which will balance the need to preserve the fragile dune landscapes with the growing demand for beach recreation opportunities and associated vehicle circulation and parking facilities. Section 9, the eastern third of Jean Klock Park and adjacent interchange lands have good potential for a hotel-convention center whether developed by the City of Benton Harbor acting independently or as part of a comprehensive development plan involving the adjacent City of St. Joseph Special Development Area. No similar site exists in the City of St. Joseph so a cooperative plan involving the Whirlpool Corporation and the two cities appears to be a good possibility. A major hotel and convention center with a view of the lakeshore, access to the beach, and a good golf course would be a powerful attraction for tourism and convention business….”

The document is loaded with lots of color maps and massive plans presaging Harbor Shores. It also uses much of the same wording, such as “cornerstone,” that emerged in later years.

Any doubts that the development was planned long in advance were ended last May. The pamphlet project publicists gave out to announce Harbor Shores’ “official beginning” that month openly admitted that the building of Harbor Shores was a 20 year process.

The Whirlpool-Cornerstone community benevolence narrative deletes the enormous amount of money that leading developers and investors like Evergreen Development Co. (responsible for Harbor Shores’ master plan) and Chicago’s Related Midwest Co. (in charge of the residential portion) and Nicklaus Design stand to make off Harbor Shores. It also omits Whirlpool’s interest in creating upper-end housing capable of attracting cutting-edge global coordinator class professionals to Southwest Michigan, whose recreational charms do not shine so brightly once winter sets in. As Brody acknowledges, “Whirlpool, a company that operates a bus for its employees who would rather make the two-hour jaunt to Chicago each day, has serious concerns about being able to attract the talent required for a operation its size” (Brody 2007).

In part, JKP would be sacrificed to an exurban version of the highly racialized gentrification that is displacing disproportionately black poor people from central city Chicago neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are being systematically “up-scaled” to house and entertain elite professionals required to handle tasks of legal, organizational and economic coordination that are being concentrated in that increasingly “global metropolis” (Street 2007). Residents being pushed further to the metropolitan margins are supposed to be pleased with the low-wage and generally non-union service jobs generated to meet the living and recreational needs of the predominantly white urban professionals who stand atop the “global city’s” increasingly bifurcated, post-industrial labor market.

Whirlpool’s assault on Jean Klock Park is partly a curious form of globalization-related gentrification – one that takes place beyond the metropolitan core and targets ecological and recreational resources, not housing.

It is unlikely that Harbor Shores will create many good jobs for which Benton Harbor’s large number of poor and black unemployed will be qualified and hired. Local activists report that the project’s authorities are already beginning to hedge on promises to set aside a significant number of employment slots for local residents. The remunerative construction jobs involved in building Harbor Shores will go to predominantly white skilled workers in regional building trades; the 2003 riots may have been sparked partly by black anger over whites’ monopoly of construction jobs in downtown Benton Harbor, interestingly enough (see Wilgoren 2003a). Conventional local wisdom holds that the prestigious caddy jobs will go “rich white college kids form [the adjacent town of] St. Joseph,” not Benton Harbor kids. The jobs that open for lesser-skilled local black residents – waiters and waitresses, cleaners and the like – will pay low wages and lack benefits. They will be particularly inhospitable to the large number of residents – including a remarkable 70 percent of Benton Harbor’s black males 17 to 30 years (Wilgoren 2003a) – who carry felony records (industrial work is the type of labor most friendly for ex-offenders ). Many of those positions can be expected to go to cheap immigrant (Latino) labor, widely available on Michigan’s western shore thanks to the presence there of large fruit and vegetable farming operations.

Harbor Shores will offer little relevant substitute for the livable wage employment that Whirlpool and other manufacturers removed from Benton Harbor in the last third of the 20th century. Carefully guarded design plans at first depicted a commercial district that purportedly would provide Benton Harbor residents with locations for small businesses. A later version, revealed after city leaders approved the leasing of the park, now shows only gated-community residential areas – what one local activist calls “a classic bait and switch.” It is sadly ironic, then, that many Benton Harbor residents have been “afraid of speaking out” against the loss of their park “in fear of not obtaining the jobs that the Harbor Shores project can provide.”

Jobs Pitted Against Nature for “An Elite Golfers’ Paradise”

But then, as local activists and residents told Granholm in September 2006, “people of color should not be forced to choose between the environment and jobs. We deserve both.” As Dave Dempsey, a onetime environmental adviser to Michigan Governor James Blanchard, wrote to Granholm in September 2006, “the citizens of Benton Harbor should not be dealt an ultimatum that forces them to give up precious assets such as Lake Michigan parkland, dunes, and recreational opportunities in order to get jobs” (Dempsey to Granholm 2006)

The “transformation of Jean Klock Park into primarily a golf course, available largely to the privileged, is,” Dempsey adds, “is an injustice to the people of Benton Harbor. The use of the park for a golf course changes the park to one used primarily by residents for their activities to an elite golfers’ paradise [emphasis added]. The two uses are incompatible” (Dempsey to Granholm 2006). Never mind, of course, that that are already many dozens of golf courses available within a thirty mile radius of Benton Harbor. Or that just nine percent of the U.S. population plays golf, according to the National Golf Foundation (Burke, Luecke, and Young 2003). It is of course well known that the relatively small segment of the population that plays this expensive game comes disproportionately from the affluent classes.

THE STATE AND MEDIA IN WHIRLPOOL’S BACK POCKET

“It’s a Local Matter”

For her part, the state’s corporate-Democratic Governor has refused to meet with Benton Harbor residents or to acknowledge their concerns about the privatizing golf occupation of JKP. Her office has told residents that the plan to dismember and essentially enclose their park – in direct violation of the park’s original deed and the recent court judgment to protect JKP – is a “local matter” in which she can not be involved (Edwards to FOJKP Member 2006). . Ironically enough, however, Granholm has lent considerable state-level support to Whirlpool-Cornerstone’s Harbor Shores project. In a May 2006 memo to Whirlpool CEO Jeff Fettig, Granholm congratulated Whirlpool for its acquisition of the Maytag Corporation (leading to elimination of hundreds of jobs in Newton, Iowa) and then promised to help Whirlpool’s “pet project” (Brody 2007) with state dollars and permit approvals. Granholm also pledged to help Harbor Shores obtain financial and technical assistance from the federal government (Granholm to Fettig 2006).

For Michigan’s governor, apparently the local designs of regional real estate developers affiliated with powerful multinational corporations deserve state and even federal backing. But the local place-, justice-, and ecology-based concerns of a desperately poor black town’s residents and their environmentalist allies do not deserve a fair hearing or assistance from the higher authorities as far as Granholm is concerned.

“To Keep Whirlpool in Michigan”

Granholm’s refusal to side with Benton Harbor activists and their environmentalist allies stands in curious contrast with her previous advocacy for the preservation of Michigan’s Arcadia Dunes in Benzie County. In that earlier struggle, Granholm supported efforts to “keep” – in her own words – “one of the most the most scenic and picturesque places in Michigan open for the public to enjoy for generations to come” (as quoted in FOJKP to Granholm 2006)

The keys to explaining these seeming contradictions are the extreme poverty, isolation and related powerlessness of Benton Harbor’s black residents and the structurally super-empowered position of Whirlpool within Michigan. Relatively middle-class and white communities like 96 percent white Benzie County, Michigan possess the political capital required to procure state support in successfully resisting development plans for their public lakefront parks. Deeply poor, black and demoralized Benton Harbor does not.

And of course it doesn’t hurt the ecologically destructive project’s chances that the corporate behemoth Whirlpool is the real force behind Harbor Shores. Whirlpool executives have made sure to shower Granholm with tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions over recent years. Equally if note more significant, Whirlpool’s supposedly benevolent decision to maintain its headquarters and a few thousand (chiefly managerial and clerical) jobs in Michigan is something that Granholm finds politically useful in supporting her claim to be advancing “job creation” in her state. Detroit Free Press reporter Tina Lam summarizes the quid pro quo that has emerged between Granholm and Whirlpool to doom JKP: “Harbor Shores is a carrot Gov. Jennifer Granholm used to keep Whirlpool and its jobs in Michigan, a victory she pointed to often during last fall’s re-election campaign” (Lam 2007).

Harbor Shores epitomizes a critical form of business control that supplements campaign funding, lobbying, and corporate media monopoly to ensure that policymakers do the bidding of private power: the threat to relocate investment capital and its attendant “economic development” benefits – “jobs” above all – out of a jurisdiction that does not give the investor class what it wants. According to one knowledgeable local activist and native Benton Harborite, speaking on condition of anonymity:

“The reason they [Whirlpool] maintain their corporate headquarters in Michigan is because they have the government in their back pocket – their very own family [Republican] Congressmen, Fred Upton [a lineal descendant of Whirlpool’s founders, P.S.] – and no one will say ‘Boo!’ to them about anything. Further, the executives all live in beautiful (mostly) lakefront houses, which would be difficult to replaces somewhere else. The other [U.S.] places were they have manufacturing facilities, and other operations – Clyde, Ohio, La Vergne Tennessee, Tulsa – are not exactly Paris, either. They do have their annual shareholders’ meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, though.”

A Media-Encouraged Sentiment: “Why Stick Out Your Neck?”

By one local informant’s account, “this place is no different from the rest of America. People feel that their vote, their voice mean NOTHING, that the fat cats will win in the end no matter what they do, so why waste time? Why risk their ire? Why stick out your neck?” It doesn’t help, the informant adds, “that we have no media support whatsoever.”

Regarding that critical problem, here is an interesting story from last summer from local activist Carol Drake:

“Recently, Jack Nicklaus came to tour the golf project and finalize design plans. He would not meet with the public. Prior to his visit, on August 10th, I and others discovered a 75-100 foot long linear pile of neatly laid out trash – 13 toilets, tires, furniture, etc., in an area adjacent to the park. I knew this trash had been dumped and was staged for Jack’s visit. TV news broadcasts were highlighting the trashy areas of the proposed golf course and reporting that a golf course was the only solution to stop the dumping and clean up contaminated land [emphasis added].”

“We Knew if we Moved or Said a Word we Would be Arrested”

It isn’t just the local media that Whirlpool has in its back pocket. By Drake’s chilling account, which merits lengthy quotation, it also owns the local police – the people who so locally famous for prematurely ending the lives of young black males from inner Benton Harbor:

“On the 10th, I met with a fellow member at the park. Upon leaving, a Benton Harbor police officer drove into the intersection with lights flashing. Then came a four-wheeler with more Benton Harbor officers. I knew that Jack was on his way. I went back to warn the other member. Two Benton harbor police officers and two members of the Cornerstone Alliance approached us. One officer said, ‘Ms. Drake, you aren’t hear to cause problems for Jack are you? You aren’t going to yell and scream are you?’ I told him I had no intention of doing so, but did not appreciate being harassed. I was told that they were there for ‘my protection.'”

“An entourage of 30-40 people soon appeared along with Jack who totally ignored us. We were surrounded by the 2 police officers and Cornerstone people and knew if we moved or said a word we would be arrested. When Jack’s entourage left so did our police and Cornerstone bodyguards. When I left the park the entourage was gawking at the pile of trash near the [projected] ninth hole. I told an officer that the pile of trash was staged for Jack’s visit. His reply was ‘it’s been there longer than a couple days and I know that for a fact.’ It was clear that he was taking orders from Harbor Shores. A day later, the witness to the dumping went to the police headquarters to file a report. They refused his report, saying ‘workers were hired to pick up trash in the park and put it out there so a front-end loader could pick it up at another time.'”

“People Were Able to Gather and Have a Great Sense of Community and Enjoyment”

Residents’ and activists’ sense that local law enforcement takes its orders from Whirlpool deepened in early September. That’s when police in cars and on horses blocked public access to the park while Whirlpool used JKP as the site for the corporation’s annual employee picnic.

Jeff Noel, vice president of communications and public af

Developers Seeking Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor

Jean Klock Park, located in Southwest Michigan in Benton Harbor, is being threatened by developers and the city government in Benton Harbor. Those parties are hoping to “grab” a portion of the park’s land as part of the Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment project that would include a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. The development threatens Jean Klock Park–one of the oldest parks in Michigan–and its unique natural ecosystems including dunes, marshes, and interdunal weatlands.

In addition to a variety of grassroots organizing efforts, the Friends of Jean Klock Park have produced a video highlighting the fight to save the park:

A petition calling on the city of Benton Harbor to preserve the can be signed online. For more information, visit www.savejeanklockpark.org.

Benton Harbor Community Organizer Sentenced to One Year in Jail, 5 Years on Probation

Community organizer Edward Pinkney was sentenced to one-year in jail yesterday stemming from allegations of voter fraud in a case that highlighted the racial and economic disparities between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph.

photo of edward pinkney outside berrien county courthouse

Yesterday, the Reverend Edward Pinkney, a community organizer in Benton Harbor, Michigan who works with the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO), was sentenced to one year in jail and five years probation at the Berrien County Court House. Pinkney, who following a trial that ended in a hung jury in 2006 was retried this March, was convicted of four felonies and a misdemeanor with all of the charges stemming from allegations of voter fraud in an eventually overturned recall election that unseated a city commissioner. Pinkney, an African-American man from Benton Harbor–which is 92% African-American–was convicted by an all white jury. Pinkney had faced a maximum of forty-three months in prison.

The sentencing began earlier than scheduled at 1:23pm, with a series of motions filed by Pinkney’s lawyers that attempted to reduce the minimum and maximum sentence. The proceedings–barely audible to those in the gallery–appeared disorganized and chaotic, with the defense lawyers, judge Alfred Butzbaugh, and the prosecutor arguing about whether memos were received, what the nature of certain charges were, and debating Pinkney’s past criminal record. Some sentencing guidelines were reduced while others were increased.

Following these briefings, defense attorney Hugh Davis argued that the judge was faced with the task of “sentencing an honest, more importantly, innocent man.” Davis argued that the judge finally had the opportunity to make his views known and side with the cause of justice, arguing that the judge could see that Pinkney was not a threat and indeed his efforts in the community should be praised. He explained that election improprieties are common place in Benton Harbor and that Pinkney should receive jail time or probation rather than be sentenced to prison. Davis asserted that Pinkney “speaks for those who have few to speak for them and against those who few speak against” and that he simply “told the truth as he sees it.”

The prosecutor called Pinkney a “pathological liar” and argued that past convictions and his alleged lies in the past show that Pinkney acts “for his own purpose.” The prosecutor told the judge that Pinkney was convicted of four felonies and a misdemeanor for voter fraud and that those convictions coupled with his previous convictions mean that he should receive a minimum sentence of fourteen months in prison.

Pinkney then took the podium to argue his case, telling the judge that he “stands before you as an innocent man.” Pinkney argued that a recent polygraph is further proof of his innocence and said that none of the witnesses whose testimony he was convicted on could pass a polygraph. Pinkney said simply “what they’re saying I did not do.” He argued that he has a reputation of acting to “help the people of Benton Harbor by any means necessary” and that this is his duty as both human and a reverend.

Following these statements, Judge Alfred Butzbaugh began by explaining that he received close to one-thousand letters in support of Reverend Pinkney. The letters came from entities such as the Michigan Association of Black Social Workers and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, as well as supporters from outside the county and from those living in the county. Butzbaugh said that 53% of the letters highlighted concerns about the jury being exclusively white, with the rest being some variation of form letters. The judge rejected concerns about the racial make up of the jury, arguing that Pinkney misrepresented the situation when asking supporters to send letters. Specifically, the judge charged that Pinkney neglected to tell supporters that 10.6% of the jury pool was black and that the defendant’s lawyers agreed to dismiss four black jurors.

Judge Butzbaugh dismissed Pinkney’s assertion that he was targeted for challenging “the white power structure” that wanted to redevelop Benton Harbor, with the judge stating that the charges from Pinkney were “not credible.” Specifically, he argued that Pinkney’s 2005 recall had nothing to do with the sale of land to Harbor Shores and that it was about police misconduct. The judge described this as the type of inconsistency that seems to follow Pinkney, citing his history of alleged dishonesty. He argued that while Pinkney has undoubtedly done some good in his life, he has done things “showing deep character flaws.” He further asserted that Pinkney has a “lack of respect for the requirements of society.”

It came as a surprise then when judge Butzbaugh announced that Pinkney would not be sentenced to prison. Instead, Butzbaugh gave Pinkney a one-year jail term and five years of probation. While the probation terms were still being decided, the judge stated that Pinkney would be restricted from being involved in any election campaign and would have to perform at least 100 hours of community service per year. In addition, a series of fines and court costs were to be assessed along with costs for overseeing his probation. Butzbaugh temporarily suspended the start of Pinkney’s jail time while he considered further suspension. The initial suspension of seven days was granted on the condition that Pinkney leave the court house and be home within fifteen minutes. Pinkney was instructed that he was not allowed to leave his home and was not allowed to go into his yard.

Supporters began the day with a march to the Berrien County Court House, located in the adjacent city of St. Joseph. Reverend Pinkney led a march of around 30 supporters chanted “No Justice, No Peace” as they marched, stopping briefly outside the court house to rally before filing into the court room.

Like the case and the issues it raises about racism, representation, and inequality, the difference between the two cities is incredibly stark. Benton Harbor’s downtown is characterized by broken glass and empty buildings, but as soon as one crosses the bridge into St. Joseph, the streets are better maintained, the buildings are not empty, and it is clear that there is more money in the community. Indeed, aside from being visibly obvious, a look at the racial and income levels of the two cities bear this out, with Benton Harbor being 92% African-American and St. Joseph being 90% white and median household incomes being $17,471 in Benton Harbor and $37,032 according to the 2000 US Census.

Pinkney and his Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) argue that this is exactly why he was targeted. They say he challenged the status quo, he mobilized the disenfranchised, and he ultimately threatens the white power structure that controls the two communities. It remains to be seen what will ultimately happen to Pinkney and how his case will effect organizing efforts in Benton Harbor, but it is clear that the conditions he was fighting continue to persist and that much work remains to be done.

Up South, All White, Confused and Scared

By Ted Glick

One year ago a Berrien County, Michigan jury was unable to reach a verdict in a “voting fraud” trial in western Michigan of Rev. Edward Pinkney, a leader in the struggle for jobs, housing, good schools and justice in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Benton Harbor, a town of about 11,000 people, over 90% black and overwhelmingly poor, burst onto the national scene in 2003 when its young people rose up in response to a series of local police killings and beatings.

Apparently, from a police/prosecutor/power structure standpoint, the problem with last year’s trial was that there were too many blacks on the jury. Two, to be exact. So last month, in March of 2007, when they re-tried Rev. Pinkney for the second time, they made sure to correct that problem. This time every single person on the jury was white.

And it worked. This time Rev. Pinkney was convicted on five counts of improprieties in connection with a successful 2005 recall election involving the City of Benton Harbor’s most powerful commissioner, Glen Yarbrough. Pinkney is now under house arrest, awaiting sentencing scheduled for May 14th. He is facing 20 years.

Three of the five charges, each with a potential five years in prison, were for “handling” an absentee ballot. Pinkney was also charged with paying people $5.00 to vote a certain way in the 2005 election. What he actually did was to ask a local woman, Brenda Fox, a drug-user and prostitute who Pinkney has helped in the past, to recruit 10-15 community people to pass out leaflets in return for $5.00, a completely legal practice.

Brenda Fox turned out to be the prosecution’s primary witness. She “agreed” to do this after being taken into the local police station for “questioning” following the 2005 election. During the trial, under cross-examination by Pinkney lawyer Elliot Hall, former counsel to the Detroit NAACP, Fox broke down completely on the stand, began crying and could not go on.

Back in 2005, a young man named Mancel Williams made a tape recording before City Commissioner Etta Harper saying that Yarbrough, the recalled City Commissioner, had paid him $10.00 to claim that Pinkney had paid him $5.00. This recording was turned over to the police, but nothing was ever done about it.

The all white jury, in the opinion of those who were there, was clearly intimidated by the large number of Pinkney supporters in the courtroom and around the courthouse, most of whom were obviously poor. Midway through the trial the judge locked the courtroom to spectators, who could only come in before the session began or on break. Security was increasingly beefed up.

All of this and more led to the conclusion desired by the local power structure, a power structure which includes the Whirlpool Corporation whose world headquarters is across the river in overwhelmingly white St. Joseph, Michigan. City Commissioner Yarbrough, back in office after his recall was overturned by a George Bush-nominated local judge, is the primary backer of Whirlpool’s efforts to take 465 acres of riverfront Benton Harbor to build a half a billion dollar marina/residential/golf course complex, Harbor Shores.

As stated in a document produced by Rev. Pinkney and his supporters after the trial, “These jurors were ordinary working class and middle class whites, themselves on the edge of economic insecurity. As the economy of Berrien County continues to decline, they needed to believe that what has happened to Benton Harbor will not happen to them. They needed to believe that what is good for Whirlpool is good for them. They needed to believe that somehow the ‘Harbor Shores’ development for rich people from somewhere else will be good for them. They failed to understand that they are one layoff, one injury or one illness from needing the same social services as the people in Benton Harbor. They failed to understand that the campaign for universal health care, education, productive jobs, limited development, protection of the environment, etc., can only be achieved when they unite around the protection of the poorest and most dispossessed, as opposed to running away from the obvious horror of life in Benton Harbor.”

Progressives around the country are needed NOW to take action on this case. It is critical that people write letters to the judge who will be sentencing Rev. Pinkney next month. Letters should be respectful but should address the all white jury issue, the importance of protecting free speech, the fact that any time in prison would be an injustice for someone like this courageous and principled man.

Letters should be addressed to The Honorable Alfred M. Butzbaugh, Berrien County Circuit Court, 811 Port St., St. Joseph, Mi. 49085-1187, BUT they should be SENT TO: Hugh M. Davis, Constitutional Litigation Associates, P.C., 450 W. Fort St., Su. 200, Detroit, Mi. 48226. The phone number is 313-961-2255; the fax is 313-961-5999; and the email is conlitpc@sbcglobal.net.

Contributions are also urgently needed for the appeals which are being prepared. They can be sent to BANCO, 1940 Union St., Benton Harbor, MI. 49022. Rev. Pinkney can be contacted directly at 269-925-0001. And more information can be found at bhbanco.blogspot.com.

We cannot forget Benton Harbor.

Ted Glick is active with the Climate Crisis Coalition and the Independent Progressive Politics Network. His Future Hope columns are archived at http://www.ippn.org.

The Stage is Set for Sentencing Another Innocent Black Man

Community organizer Rev. Edward Pinkney will be sentenced in Benton Harbor on Monday. Pinkney and his supporters argued that his trial is an attempt to silence him and that the verdict was a product of the racist system that he was organizing against.

The following statement comes from BANCO on the impending sentencing of community activist Rev. Pinkney. For more information on the case, see a previous statement titled “Travesties of Justice in a Black City in Michigan.

In Benton Harbor, Michigan, residents won a recall vote of a corrupt city commissioner through a well-organized campaign led by BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization). Then, in an attempt to circumvent the will of the people, the vote was overturned by a local judge. In a further outrage, community leader Rev. Edward Pinkney of BANCO was arrested on charges of alleged improper possession of absentee votes and improper influence of voters. Pinkney’s second trial in March 2007 before a jury with no minority representation resulted in convictions on all charges (the first trial ended in a hung jury on all charges).

The stage is set for the sentencing of Pinkney on May 14 in St. Joseph, Michigan. Pinkney’s attorneys have received the pre-sentence investigation (PSI), which recommends that Pinkney be sentenced to a minimum of 14 and a maximum of 43 months in prison. Pinkney’s attorneys will argue that the sentencing guidelines were incorrectly scored and that the minimum/maximum range should be lower. Even then, Pinkney is almost certain to get some time in jail or prison.

On May 7, Pinkney’s attorneys revealed to the judge for the first time that Pinkney passed a polygraph (lie detector) test on April 13 on all the issues on which he was convicted. The polygraph was conducted by Christopher J. Lanfear, the polygraph examiner for the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department, whose integrity and impartiality is unquestioned. Pinkney’s attorneys gave the prosecutor a confidential copy of the polygraph report and offered for Pinkney to re-take the test; the prosecution refused.

Close observers of the case believe their refusal is because the prosecution already knows he is innocent, having trumped up the charges, coerced the witnesses, and rigged the jury in the first place. Although polygraph tests are not admissible as evidence, Pinkney–who has been a watchdog of the Berrien County courts for many years–pointed out that the state only upholds this when defendants pass a polygraph. “When they fail, the state just loves to drag it in and go on and on about it. The judge allows this,” Pinkney said.

What does the justice system represent when a prosecutor expresses no interest in learning the truth? How, then, will the courts handle the sentencing of an innocent man?

At the very least, the polygraph test supports Pinkney’s argument for the most lenient possible sentence and for bond pending appeal. Even so, the bond is expected to be very high. On his initial arrest, it was set at $100,000. Since poverty and unemployment in Benton Harbor are staggering, BANCO has campaigned for national and international support to meet legal costs. Currently, Pinkney’s attorneys, Hugh Davis and Elliott Hall, have taken on the case as a National Lawyers Guild project.

Pinkney’s attorneys also filed a motion to delay sentencing because pending legislation would affect the felony charges in Pinkney’s case. The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan has recommended to the Legislature that the maximum penalty for the felonies should be reduced from five years to two years. The legislation is being held up because of the overall budget crisis in Michigan; not much legislation will go forward until some of those problems are solved. In the meantime, supporters point out that it is a waste of taxpayer money to put someone like Pinkney–a respected community leader who poses no danger to the public, and no flight risk–in prison.

Prior to the second trial, Pinkney, along with other court observers, filed affidavits complaining of systematic exclusion and under-representation of black jurors in the Berrien County court system. Pinkney has long complained of racial bias in jury selection. Pinkney is black and the jury that convicted him was an all-white jury; Berrien County is 15.5% black. Whether intentional or not, a significant disparity in representation is constitutionally significant.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against racial stacking of juries in a powerful 8 to 1 decision in late February. The Court ruled that an Appeals Court had made it unduly hard for a black man to get a fair trial on his claim that the jury had been unconstitutionally purged of blacks. The lower court, the Supreme Court held, did not give full consideration to the substantial evidence the petitioner put forth in support of racial bias in jury selection and instead accepted, without question, the State Court’s evaluation of the racial intent of the prosecution.

In Pinkney’s case, the judge rejected the jury challenge on the first day of the trial. By the end of the trial, he had still not issued a written decision.

On Monday, Pinkney filed a motion for reconsideration of the judge’s denial of the jury challenge, showing that the information given to his lawyers and expert in order to analyze racial disparities was inadequate, incomplete, and prevented them from doing so. Further, the judge’s refusal to adjourn the trial so that there could be a further investigation of the necessary data to prove racial under-representation prevented Pinkney from having a fair hearing on this fundamental constitutional issue.

Observers who attended Pinkney’s second trial also complained of unfair treatment. After the trial began, security was tightened to the point where people were not allowed to enter the courtroom unless they were inside before the session began. This is not normal procedure in the Berrien County courthouse. Court watchers also reported that the television monitor where they were sent to watch jury selection did not work for about half the time. Further, even when it was working, it was not possible to see much, including the potential jurors. Pinkney claims that these were violations of his constitutional right to a public trial.

On the day of the verdict, additional armed police were present and police vehicles with lights and sirens waited outside. Those present believed it was intended to create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, as if Rev. Pinkney and his supporters represented a physical threat. The people who came to the trial were community supporters, church members, members of progressive organizations, progressive media, and interested citizens. They were respectful and interested. They represented no threat of disruption.

The treatment Rev. Pinkney has received at the hands of the criminal justice system in Benton Harbor raises serious questions about human rights and democracy. Many observers believe he was falsely accused in order to circumvent the recall election, that witnesses were coerced or bribed, and that he did not receive a fair trial. It was highly doubtful from the beginning that he could receive fair treatment in the same county where for years he has been the most outspoken critic of local political and corporate leaders, police, judges, and prosecutors and an advocate of poor and minority defendants. The request for a different venue for his trial was denied.

Those in authority should not be able to disenfranchise voters and squash dissent in Benton Harbor, or anywhere. Regardless of whether you agree with him, Pinkney is a nationally known defender of the rights of the community and critic of the criminal justice system. The City of Benton Harbor has some of the most dismal economic, employment, and crime statistics in the nation. The trial outcome for Rev. Pinkney has dealt a devastating blow to the community.

Pinkney’s supporters are planning a mass demonstration and march from Benton Harbor to the Berrien County courthouse in St. Joseph at noon on Monday, May 14, prior to his sentencing hearing at 1:30pm.

Reverend Pinkney Discussing the Case against Him

On March 21, Benton Harbor community organizer Reverend Edward Pinkney was convicted of five “improprieties” in connection his 2005 campaign to recall Benton Harbor’s most powerful city commissioner. In the following videos, Pinkney talks the circumstances of his conviction and how he has been targeted for campaigning against Whirlpool.

Reverend Pinkney discussing his conviction:

Reverend Pinkney discussing why Whirlpool is trying to silence him:

Travesties of Justice in a Black City in Michigan

Last month, Reverend Edward Pinkney was convicted by an all-white jury of “improprieties” in connection with a 2005 recall election involving one of Benton Harbor’s most powerful city commissioners. The prosecution appears to be an attempt to silence Pinkney’s work as a community organizer aiding the disenfranchised in Benton Harbor.

by BANCO

Justice in Berrien County, Michigan, took a big step backwards into the darkness of fear and bigotry. On March 21, 2007, an all-white jury convicted a black community activist, Reverend Edward Pinkney, of five counts of improprieties in connection with a 2005 recall election involving the City of Benton Harbor’s most powerful commissioner.

The facts and history are stark. Benton Harbor is 94% black, 90% poor, and 70% unemployed. It is directly across the river from affluent and practically all-white St. Joseph, Michigan, the world headquarters of the Whirlpool Corporation. Benton Harbor is still the largest city in the county and was once the site of most of the county’s governmental functions, including the Federal building. But, as industrial stagnation and flight increasingly gripped the area and the St. Joseph/Lake Michigan coastline was increasingly dominated by the tourist economy, Benton Harbor was systematically drained of any economic vitality. Its citizens are unwelcome in other parts of the county and the criminal justice system operates to arrest, imprison, intimidate, control and marginalize them. Benton Harbor’s governmental and educational institutions are characterized by infighting and petty corruption.

The City festered in that condition until the summer of 2003, when the police killing of a young black man erupted into a short and destructive outburst of rebellious anger. Pinkney helped keep the peace by walking the streets, talking to people and calming them, and encouraging the crowds to disperse. Public officials poured in to deplore Benton Harbor’s conditions and promised that something would be done. Nothing was. Progressive and radical organizations also went to Benton Harbor and linked up with the local community.

Pinkney, working in cooperation with his wife, Dorothy Pinkney, had affiliated with the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizations (BANCO) and held meetings in Benton Harbor. By the time of the 2003 rebellion, Pinkney was publicly identified as the leader of the disadvantaged and dissident community in Benton Harbor, based in large part on his daily presence at the Berrien County courthouse. He witnessed and exposed what he saw as the inherent racism of the criminal justice system and the willful inadequacy of the defense provided to the poor, mostly black defendants. Pinkney picketed the courthouse and the local newspaper, openly naming individuals he believed to be involved in corrupt and racist practices.

In the fall of 2003, in a notorious incident, the Benton Harbor Chief of Police (who was not a certified law enforcement officer nor licensed to carry a gun), fired into the air in order to disperse a group of black youths who had gathered on a corner. Despite the fact that both the possession and the use of the gun were illegal under state and local law, nothing was done. Pinkney led protests. The primary protector of the Police Chief was a City Commissioner named Glen Yarbrough, who was and is the most powerful political figure in Benton Harbor.

The transition of Berrien County from an industrial to a tourist, real estate and service-based economy increasingly isolated Benton Harbor. However, it sits on some very valuable real estate on the St. Joseph River. In 2003, the former CEO of Whirlpool began advocating a development plan for a projected half-billion dollar marina/residential/golf course complex. It would take 465 acres of Benton Harbor land, including the City’s only beach, and the City would be paid less than a million dollars for it. Ultimately, the land will likely be detached from the City and put in the more-white adjoining township. BANCO and Pinkney opposed this development because it would do nothing for the poor and would permanently deprive the City of some of its greatest assets. Commissioner Yarbrough was the key local politician supporting the plan.

In the fall of 2004, Pinkney and BANCO circulated recall petitions for Yarbrough, using his failure to discipline the Police Chief as the reason. Once the recall election was put on the ballot for February 2005, Pinkney used his grassroots and BANCO network to get out the absentee vote. He knew that, with his limited resources, he could never hope to compete with the Yarbrough “machine” on Election Day.

BANCO was successful. There was a 42% absentee voter rate and Yarbrough lost the recall by 54 votes.

Yarbrough immediately swung into action. He went to the County Clerk complaining about the absentee votes. She referred him to the Prosecutor, who personally called the Sheriff to have an investigation opened. Within days, Yarbrough had “found” a young man named Mancel Williams, who alleged that Pinkney paid him $5 to vote for the recall. A week later the same Mancel Williams went to City Commissioner Etta Harper and made a tape recording, indicating that Yarbrough had paid him $10 to claim that Pinkney had paid him $5. The tape was turned over to Mayor Wilce Cook, who turned it over to the Benton Harbor Police. Nothing happened. The County Sheriff’s investigation did not mention it. Mancel Williams is in prison on another charge and has refused to testify for either side, fearing retaliation by the police and Prosecutor.

Brenda Fox, a drug-user and prostitute whom Pinkney had helped in the past, was interviewed by the police, who were working off the absentee voter list. The day before the election, she had volunteered to go to the local soup kitchen and recruit 10-15 people, offering them $5 each to pass out leaflets about the election the next day. It turned out that a number of the clients of the soup kitchen were registered to vote and wanted to do so. They went to the Clerk’s Office, got absentee ballots, and voted. Brenda Fox, under pressure, claimed that Pinkney had told her to pay them $5 to vote against Yarbrough and make sure that they did so. She was given immunity from prosecution. None of the people who supposedly got paid to vote admitted it or testified against Pinkney. A number of witnesses denied the $5-a-vote claim by Brenda Fox, supporting Pinkney. They said they passed out fliers.

But Brenda Fox’s most important task was to testify in the lawsuit filed by the Prosecutor against the City Clerk, Jean Nesbitt, to set aside the recall. The City refused to defend Nesbitt. Although there was not enough evidence to invalidate 54 votes, a local judge (now nominated by George Bush to the Federal bench in Western Michigan) ordered a new election. The Clerk lost her job. The next day the Prosecutor arrested Pinkney for voter fraud and hit him with a $100,000 bond. Pinkney’s bond was later reduced and he was released. Pinkney still campaigned valiantly, but facing charges and with his supporters intimidated, he was unable to overcome the resources poured in by the local establishment. The vote was down; Yarbrough won the second recall election by 40 votes and was reinstated to the Commission.

In other words, a fair and valid recall election was overturned by the judicial system on the basis of trumped up charges-of voter fraud. This surreal turn of events has sinister implications for the future of democratic process in the United States.

In Pinkney’s first trial in March 2006, there were two blacks on the jury. The jury hung on all five counts. Considering that the Prosecutor had already set aside the election, succeeded in putting Yarbrough back in office, and removed a City Clerk believed to be friendly to Pinkney, they might have been satisfied. But Pinkney’s militant and outspoken opposition to the local administration and to the proposed “Harbor Shores” development meant he was still a threat to some very powerful interests. They needed to distract him by forcing him to continue to defend himself and, if possible, remove him as a community leader. The Prosecutor called for a second trial which took place in March 2007.

In this trial, Brenda Fox, under questioning by one of Pinkney’s lawyers, broke down completely on the stand, began crying and could not go on. She was described by Hugh (Buck) Davis (a veteran civil rights lawyer) as being as incredible as any witness he had seen in 38 years. Davis told the jury in closing argument, “You couldn’t send a dog to the pound on the testimony of Brenda Fox.” Nevertheless, the all-white jury convicted Pinkney of paying for and influencing votes through Brenda Fox, shocking the audience and arguably surprising even the Prosecutor.

But the most dangerous charge against Pinkney did not concern corruptly buying or influencing votes, but simply inadvertently having possession of an absentee ballot (voted or unvoted) of a person who was not a family member or a member of his immediate household. The Michigan Legislature passed this law in 1995. In essence, it is a “gotcha” law. The mere allegation that an individual handled an absentee ballot (even with no bad intent or evidence of tampering) is a five-year felony. The Prosecutor brought three such charges against Pinkney.

Pinkney admitted that he gave those voters stamps and address labels to mail their ballots, but said he did not handle them. He knew that they were so poor they might not have postage. The Prosecutor also admitted that Pinkney gave them stamps. The defense pointed out, “If Pinkney was going to take the ballots, why give them stamps?”

Defense attorneys Elliott Hall and Davis, long-time associates in civil rights cases in Detroit, volunteered for the second trial as a National Lawyers Guild project. Pinkney inspired substantial publicity and support, particularly in Michigan, but also nationally. Timothy Holloway (an appellate specialist) also volunteered and wrote a motion and brief attacking the “possession of an absentee ballot” statute on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to create a strict liability felony where the act itself is only handling someone’s ballot without tampering and without knowledge or bad intent. The Judge denied the motion. Pinkney attempted to appeal before trial. The Court of Appeals would not hear the case. It is now one of the major issues on appeal.

Secondly, Pinkney had complained for years about the systematic exclusion and under-representation of black jurors in the Berrien County court system. Pinkney, several of his courthouse observers, and his original attorney filed affidavits indicating that out of an average panel of potential jurors, rarely were more than two or three minorities among them (3-5%). Frequently, there were none.

Berrien County is 15.5% black. The statistical disparity is constitutionally significant and presents a case for systematic racial exclusion, whether intentional or not. Wayne Bentley, a Jury Commissioner in Kent County, Michigan, who has helped reform the jury system there, agreed to act as an expert. Approximately 100,000 jury questionnaires from the last three years were obtained and an evidentiary hearing was held the week before the trial. There, Bentley explained the ways in which the jury system results in the systematic under-representation of minorities.

The Clerk testified, without any documentation, that approximately six out of every 45 potential jurors in the pools were black, bringing the percentage to a constitutionally permissible 12-13%. In fact, she testified that there were six blacks in the jury pool called for that very day, March 6. Unfortunately for the Clerk, Pinkney’s court-watchers were in the hall when that panel was escorted to another courtroom. There were indeed 45 potential jurors, but only two of them were black (4%). The court-watchers filed affidavits with Pinkney’s Judge, alleging perjury by the Clerk. He ignored them. He denied the jury challenge on the first day of the trial, but by the end of the trial had still not issued a written opinion. That will be another basis for appeal.

When Pinkney’s second jury turned out to be all white, there was some hope that the liberal sentiments of the white community to defend the rights of minorities could be aroused. But the jury was clearly intimidated by the large number of Pinkney supporters in the courtroom and around the courthouse, most of them obviously poor. Midway through the trial, the Judge locked the courtroom to spectators, who could only come in before the session began or on break. A juror reported that she thought she had seen an illegal transaction take place in the parking lot between one of Pinkney’s lawyers and one of his witnesses and supporters (the lawyer gave him a cigarette). Security was increasingly beefed up. The jury wanted to make sure that Pinkney’s lawyers did not have their jury questionnaires. They were returned before the verdict.

The effect of all these factors was to make the jury even more afraid and suspicious of blacks in Benton Harbor, in general, and of Pinkney and his supporters, in particular. Their reaction was to retreat into the sort of blind desire to uphold the system as in the pre-civil-rights South, where a black man’s word meant nothing regardless of how obviously false and fabricated the evidence against him.

It should also be pointed out that these jurors were ordinary working class and middle class whites, themselves on the edge of economic insecurity. As the economy of Berrien County continues to decline, they needed to believe that what has happened to Benton Harbor will not happen to them. They needed to believe that what is good for Whirlpool is good for them. They needed to believe that somehow the “Harbor Shores” development for rich people from somewhere else will be good for them. They failed to understand that they are one layoff, one injury, or one illness from needing the same social services as the people in Benton Harbor. They failed to understand that the campaign for universal health care, education, productive jobs, limited development, and protection of the environment can only be achieved when they unite around the protection of the poorest and most dispossessed, instead of running away from the obvious horror of life in Benton Harbor.

Pinkney is now under house arrest, awaiting sentencing on May 14. While his attorneys prepare an appeal based on the constitutional issues mentioned, supporters continue to organize by raising defense funds and urging that the judge not refuse Pinkney bond while the appeals are decided. Pinkney is in danger of becoming yet another black victim of the very judicial machine he long accused of corruption and racism.

Meanwhile, the “Harbor Shores” development is planned to include a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, two hotels, and 880 luxury housing units. The overall price tag recently doubled to a billion dollars. Whirlpool’s nonprofit Harbor Shores Redevelopment Corporation already broke ground on the project despite not having the necessary environmental permits. Apparently, with a billion dollars at stake, environmental contamination-much less social justice, civil rights, or democracy-cannot stand in the way of progress.

BANCO Statement on the Conviction of Edward Pinkney

Benton Harbor community organizer Edward Pinkney was convicted of five felony voter fraud charges in court this week. Pinkney’s group, BANCO, asserts that the charges are the result of a political prosecution designed to punish him for his campaigning against Whirlpool’s plans to gentrify Benton Harbor.

The following statement was released by the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) in Benton Harbor following the conviction of its leader, Reverend Edward Pinkney. According to BANCO, the voter fraud charges against Pinkney are false and are a political move by Benton Harbor’s elite after Pinkney and BANCO ran a successful campaign to recall a City Commissioner in order to prevent the sale of land to Whirlpool. Whirlpool was attempting to gentrify Benton Harbor and uproot the predominately poor and black residents. The statement is printed below:

To the disbelief of supporters, Rev. Edward Pinkney — a courageous community leader in Benton Harbor who has dedicated his life to the defense of the poor — was found guilty of all 5 charges on March 21.

He faces twenty years in prison. A white Judge, prosecutor, and jury convicted Rev. Pinkney. The jury deliberations in this travesty of justice lasted less than seven hours. The charges are:

1 – Influencing voters with money

2 – Influencing voters while voting

3 – Possession of Danielle William’s absentee ballot

4 – Possession of Rosie Miles’s absentee ballot

5 – Possession of LaToya William’s absentee ballot

This conviction was made possible by a biased jury — and the corrupt Judge, courts, police, and prosecution who were out to get Rev. Pinkney. Berrien County has a long history of ‘doing what it wants’ and what it wants is what Whirlpool wants. The court system is set up to keep the corruption and power structure in place and the people down.

Prior to the trial, challenges were made to the jury selection process which disproportionately eliminates Blacks from the jury pool, but the Judge denied the motion. As a result, the prosecution’s first victory came when an all-white, middle-class jury was selected.

There were many other examples of ‘how things are done in Berrien County.’ The Judge over-ruled most defense objections, but allowed the prosecution’s. Most prosecution witnesses were poor young women who undoubtedly feared a vicious police department which is known to beat and arrest the Benton Harbor poor at will even though they were promised immunity. The conviction was based largely on the testimony of one witness who contradicted herself on the stand. Defense lawyers said they ‘wouldn’t put a dog in a pound on her testimony.’

Glenn Yarbrough, the corrupt County Commissioner who was ousted in the contested recall election took the stand but the Judge refused to allow certain testimony necessary for the defense’s case. When jurists asked why the courtroom doors were locked. The Judge lied, telling jurists that this was standard procedure. In fact, the doors had not been locked in the previous trial nor were any other courtroom doors locked in the Berrien County courthouse. They were locked to keep people from seeing what was going on. During the closing arguments of the defense, the judge allowed the prosecution to object to the defense’s conclusions further tainting the jury’s perceptions.

The system of justice is broken in Berrien County. We must gather our forces together and fight forward. This struggle is about whether we’re going to have democracy or fascism and should be of concern to every American. Rev. Pinkney is standing strong and is planning his appeal. He will also be filing civil law suits against several witnesses and the jury. Money and support will be urgently needed.

Legal fee donations to:

BANCO

1940 Union St.

Benton Harbor, MI 49022

Court Support needed in Rev. Pinkney’s Struggle against Whirlpool in Benton Harbor

Reverend Edward Pinkney, who has been a leader in the struggle against the take over of Benton Harbor, Michigan by Whirlpool Corporation, is continuing to face ongoing legal proceedings in 2007. He has called for supporters to come to St. Joseph for an important hearing in the case on January 25.

On November 3, 2006, Reverend Edward Pinkney made a motion for a continuance in his re-trial for “voter fraud.” The first trial ended in a hung jury. These charges are an outcome of his leadership in the Benton Harbor, Michigan democracy struggle against the take over of the town by Whirlpool Corporation and the developers (for background information, see bhbanco.blogspot.com or listen to an interview with Rev. Pinkney). Rev. Pinkney’s motion was heard before Judge Alfred Butzbaugh, a known corrupt judge who fought to convict him.

The Court ordered the transcript of Rev. Pinkney’s first trial, but at the expense of Rev Pinkney who had to put up his home as collateral. It is unknown when the transcript will be available for his counsel, Hugo Davis, who moved for a continuance of the trial date of January 9,2007 to March 13,2007 because the court failed to produce the transcript in a timely matter. The motion was granted.

On December 12,2006, Rev. Pinkney’s attorney filed a motion for a Direct Verdict to Squash the Information and to dismiss counts three to five of his charges. These counts are in violation of Rev. Pinkneys constitutional rights/due process. The statute of being in possession of absentee ballots creates a felony offense, but there was no evidence presented at the preliminary examination that showed that Rev. Pinkney had any knowledge that it was illegal to possess and/or deliver absentee ballots.

Everyone’s support is needed at a very important hearing on several constitutional issues on January 25, 2007 at 9 am at the Berrien County Courthouse, 811 Port Street in St. Joseph, Michigan.

On November 9 2006, Rev Pinkney went to Lansing for the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board of Trustees, a special meeting to challenge Whirlpool and their take over of Benton Harbor. Rev Pinkney spoke for the people in Benton Harbor — with its 70% unemployment, and where 90% of the people live below the poverty level. He asked what a city like Benton Harbor with so much poverty would want with a 18-hole golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus, a boat launch, and about 30 homes that cost about one million dollars each, built on city property. As we go to print the City Council is voting on the golf course. This could be the last stand, but the battle will continue for the people of Benton Harbor to keep their city.

Anybody interested in being in a caravan from Grand Rapids can call 616-881-5263 to reserve a space.