Benton Harbor Activist Will Remain Under House Arrest

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Benton Harbor community activist will remain under house arrest while he is waiting the outcome of his appeal. You can read more about Pinkney’s case online. For more on the ruling, see the AP article below:

(AP) — LANSING, Mich. – A Benton Harbor minister will remain on house arrest while he appeals a prison sentence for writing that God could punish a judge who presided over his election fraud conviction.

The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear Edward Pinkney’s appeal of his house arrest in an unanimous order dated Wednesday.

Pinkney was sentenced to five years of probation in 2007 after being convicted of paying people to vote in a Benton Harbor election. He later wrote an article saying the judge who handled his case could be punished by God with curses unless he changed his ways.

Another judge ruled that Pinkney’s column violated his probation and sentenced him to prison. The state appeals court has released Pinkney on bond while considering an appeal of his sentence.

Court Decision Paves Way for Release of Activist

Imprisoned community activist Edward Pinkney may be eligible for release from prison following a Court of Appeals ruling asking the Berrien County Circuit Court to set bond.


Earlier this week, a Court of Appeals decision paved the way for the possible release of imprisoned Benton Harbor activist Rev. Edward Pinkney.

The ruling comes in a case where Pinkney is serving three to ten years in prison for criticizing a judge in a newspaper article. The Michigan ACLU–who took up Pinkney’s case last month–is calling the decision a victory. The ACLU had argued that while Pinkney’s comments were offensive to many, they were protected First Amendment speech.

Pinkney remains in prison, but the Court of Appeals has granted the ACLU’s motion and has asked the Berrien County Circuit Court to set the amount of bond. No hearing date has been scheduled yet, but the ACLU plans to ask for the earliest date possible.

Imprisoned Community Activist’s Case Discussed

An LA-based radio show aired an episode yesterday devoted to the case of the community activist Reverend Edward Pinkney who has been imprisoned as a result of organizing in the city of Benton Harbor.


The Los Angeles based radio program Sojourner Truth with Margaret Prescod aired a program yesterday that features some important background information on the case of imprisoned Benton Harbor community activist Reverend Edward Pinkney.

On the program, Prescod interviews Pinkney’s attorney who gives an overview of the case and where the legal process is at, Pinkney’s wife who talks about Pinkney’s incarceration and his activism, and Benton Harbor resident Belinda Brown who talks about the issues facing residents of the city.

The interview can be listened to below, it starts six minutes into the program:

ACLU Representing Minister Imprisoned for Criticizing Judge

The ACLU of Michigan has announced that it is representing Benton Harbor community activist Rev. Pinkney. Pinkney has been imprisoned for almost a year on charges that he defamed a judge in his case by criticizing him in a newspaper editorial.


Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties of Union (ACLU) of Michigan agreed to represent the Reverend Edward Pinkney in a controversial case over the limits of the First Amendment and is calling for Pinkney’s release from an Upper Peninsula prison on bond.

Pinkney–an African-American community activist in Benton Harbor–has been in the public eye over a series of debates about the direction of development in the city, race relations, and city politics. Pinkney has been a steadfast critic of the politicians and the judicial system in Berrien County, often exposing the way in which race impacts politics in the predominantly white St. Joseph and the predominantly black Benton Harbor.

As part of his ongoing organizing, Pinkey engaged in a recall campaign against a Benton Harbor City Commission. Out of that campaign, Pinkney was eventually charged with violating Michigan’s election law, to which he was sentenced a year in prison and five years of probation in May of 2007. He was allowed to begin serving probation at that time and was set to begin the prison time at a later date.

However, in December of 2007, Pinkney’s probation was revoked after his probation officer became aware of a newspaper article in which Pinkney criticized the judge in his case. That set off a process in which Pinkney was eventually resentenced to three to ten years in prison.

According to the court, Pinkney threatened the judge in the case when he criticized him. In a legal brief, the ACLU writes:

“In 2007, Rev. Pinkney was convicted of violating Michigan election law and sentenced to probation. But his probation was revoked, and he was resentenced to three to ten years in prison, solely because he wrote a newspaper editorial highly critical of the judge who presided at his trial. Quoting a passage from the Bible, Rev. Pinkney predicted that God would curse the judge and his family unless the judge “hearken[ed] unto the voice of the Lord they God to observe [and] to do all that is right.” Rev. Pinkney also expressed his opinion that the judge was racist, dumb, and corrupt. The

The statements Rev. Pinkney made in his newspaper editorial, while offensive to many are clearly protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States constitution. At the very least, whether his statements are protected constitutes a substantial ground for appeal. His statement regarding God’s curses upon the trial judge was not a “true threat” and the First Amendment does not tolerate a blanket prohibition on the ability of a probationer to criticize public officials.”

In the brief, the ACLU argues that is legal precedent for Pinkeny’s speech being protected. Moreover, it argues that a term of Pinkney’s probation is overbroad and does not survive Constitutional scrutiny. That term read:

“You must not engage in any assault, abusive, defamatory, demeaning, harassing, violent, threatening, or intimidating behavior, including the use, through any electronic or print media under your care, custody or control, of the mail, e-mail, or internet.”

The ACLU argues that this condition is an unconstitutional prohibition of legally protected First Amendment speech.

They are calling for Pinkney’s release on bond pending the resolution of his appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals.

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.

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.


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.

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 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.