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Imprisoned Rev. Pinkney runs for U.S. Congress

October 10, 2008
Rev. Edward Pinkney
by Andrea Egypt

Detroit – Due to the great outpouring of support in Michigan, Rev. Edward Pinkney has become the Green Party candidate in the 6th District Congressional race. He is running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a political heir to Whirlpool Corp.-Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment Inc.

Rev. Pinkney won the nomination even though Berrien County’s criminal justice system has locked him away on a three-to-10-year prison sentence. The reverend is Benton Harbor’s community activist and minister for the oppressed and dissident African-American, Latin@ and white populations.

Despite his imprisonment, Rev. Pinkney remains defiant and vigilant against the ruling elites of this southwest Michigan community.

Rev. Pinkney continues to gain tremendous support from people inside and outside Benton Harbor. Many see in his case the blatant contradictions within the legal system. Activists are keeping in contact with Rev. Pinkney inside the prison walls as they monitor his conditions, treatment and the damages caused to him and his family by the unjust sentence imposed upon him by the Berrien County court system.

Former congresswoman and current Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney visited Rev. Pinkney last year during his court-ordered home confinement on a tether. McKinney continues to lend her support, along with that of many other activists from surrounding counties.

Rev. Pinkney was picked up from his home by Berrien County authorities in December after statements he made were published in an article in the People’s Tribune newspaper based in Chicago. Rev. Pinkney quoted from the book of Deuteronomy in the Bible about what “God shall visit upon the iniquitous” as an expression of his religious beliefs.

According to the authorities in Berrien County, these statements supposedly violated the conditions of his parole and landed him in prison for three to 10 years.

In response to this unjust sentencing, his defense committee has broadened its scope by bringing in the American Civil Liberties Union, which has agreed to handle possible constitutional violations in his case.

In regard to his original conviction in May 2007 on four felony counts and one misdemeanor for vote fraud and ballot tampering, the National Lawyers Guild filed a 115-page brief in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Simultaneously, his supporters have petitioned Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm to grant clemency or vacate the conviction.

The persecution of Rev. Pinkney has become a classic example of injustice within the U.S. political system. As his case becomes more well known and resistance to his railroading grows, it exposes the widespread problems associated with jury selection and the violations of First Amendment rights related to freedom of speech and religious expression.

What threat does Rev. Pinkney pose?

Rev. Pinkney is both an activist and a man of the cloth. His activism is deeply rooted in opposition to the corporate redevelopment and gentrification plans for Benton Harbor, an oppressed, majority African-American community. The white-dominated power structure in Berrien County is seeking to bring about the massive displacement of the African-American community through political disenfranchisement, home foreclosures and corporate development projects.

Rev. Pinkney’s continuing unjust imprisonment is shining a spotlight on the power structure of Berrien County. His illegal imprisonment stems from the fact that he poses a threat to the ruling-class objectives of the Whirlpool Corp.-backed Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment project, which plans to destroy Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.

After seizure of that public property, the HSCR intends to transform it into a three-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course for private use. In no way will that benefit the African-American community.

Rev. Pinkney will continue to sacrifice himself, his possessions and his security to be the vanguard and voice of the voiceless community in Benton Harbor. His tenacity and drive to protect the people who are being exploited, imprisoned, gentrified and subjugated poses a threat only to the racist power structure.

Rev. Pinkney organized the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizations, a people’s movement of resistance and protest. At the same time he continually revealed the names of those responsible for the poverty, unemployment and adverse conditions of the poor people of Benton Harbor as they struggled to meet their basic needs.

The elite powers of Benton Harbor want to remain nameless and faceless so they can continue with their plans to remove the majority of the African-American population. Rev. Pinkney has lifted the cloak and identified who is really responsible for the conditions of the poor people in Benton Harbor. This is the real threat that keeps Rev. Pinkney behind bars.

Invoking the Bible to speak truth to power

Rev. Pinkney’s belief system is based upon his understanding of biblical scriptures. He speaks truth to the power based upon these principles and his rights should be defended to invoke scriptures related to the consequences for those who exploit the people in Benton Harbor. Many African-American ministers, priests and pastors use this biblical invoking of scriptures when they respond to attacks by the ruling class, who impose injustices upon the downtrodden and poor.

Therefore, his comment that “God shall visit upon the iniquitous” was not contrived from his own contemplations but borrowed from his religious beliefs. Yet he was sent to prison for three to10 years for comments he made to a limited-circulation newspaper, The People’s Tribune in Chicago. This is a clear violation of his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

Before Rev. Pinkney was locked away in prison because of his comments, his lawyers filed an effective respondent brief in the trial court for Berrien County in early January 2008. In this brief, they cited several similar cases that had set a precedent regarding the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. In their brief they argued, “The Constitution requires that courts not punish persons based upon protected speech that may not objectively be considered a ‘true threat.’”

What a threat is must be distinguished from what is constitutionally protected speech. “True threats” encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against a particular individual or group of individuals. Related to the doctrine regarding “true threats” is the fact that “advocacy” is protected unless it is likely to incite others to imminent lawless action.

Under both the “true threats” doctrine and the “advocacy” doctrines, statements are protected by the First Amendment unless “an objective unconditional danger of physical harm or lawlessness is unambiguously present.” Therefore the contradictions inherent within the Berrien County court ruling will almost certainly be revisited due to the improper sentencing by the trial court judges in this case.

Though the ruling class elites have successfully and unlawfully locked Rev. Pinkney away from organizing the people of Benton Harbor, they have been unsuccessful in concealing and silencing his voice and influence. In fact his imprisonment has had the opposite effect by increasing attention and exposure to this miscarriage of justice.

Political significance

The capitalist system has many components of exploitation to feed the need for profit. The U.S. capitalist system openly admits that its primary goal is to achieve maximum profits, but what it doesn’t admit openly is the systemic apparatus of exploitation and racism embodied within the structure.

Whether the ruling class structures use law enforcement officers to inflict police brutality and the courts to impose harsh sentencing, or the military industrial complex to recruit the oppressed and working class to carry out the program of the Project for the New American Century embedded in its current foreign policy, or the exploitative systems of “free-trade,” economic “hitmen” agreements like NAFTA, all of these mechanisms are designed to control, exploit, subjugate and make maximum profits from the targeted groups. These groups are disproportionately African-American, Latin@ and other oppressed populations.

The prison system works parallel to the judiciary system, particularly on the state levels, in direct violation of supposed constitutional guarantees of targeted groups. Generally these structures work together to support the deeply entrenched ruling class initiatives for eminent domain over land and natural resources, while utilizing the prison system as a means of legally removing the masses from society and areas of interest.

We can point to another example of systemic ethnic removal in the case of New Orleans after the impact of Hurricane Katrina. In that case the natural disaster and the damage Katrina caused presented an opportunity to legally remove the masses of mostly African Americans permanently by way of evacuation.

It is a profound contradiction within the judiciary system to arbitrarily promote the notion of fair and impartial jurisprudence when a disproportionate number of African-American and Latin@ men and women are either forced to plea bargain for crimes they didn’t commit, suffer lockups without proper representation and/or receive maximum sentencing from juries that embody racial biases. One could conclude that the judiciary system is not set up to establish justice for these groups, but instead to work as a mechanism to remove them from society at alarming record numbers.

How to help Rev. Pinkney

Rev. Pinkney is a political prisoner trapped within the legal structures of the judicial and correctional system in the state of Michigan. It will take the concerned communities around the country to expose his case and to organize protests to free him. If you would like to help in the struggle to free him:

1) Send letters or postcards supporting Rev. Pinkney’s application to the Parole Board. The text can be as simple as: “I support Rev. Pinkney’s application for pardon.” Address them to Michigan Department of Corrections, Office of the Parole Board, Pardons and Commutations Coordinator, P.O. Box 30003, Lansing, MI 48909.

2) Write Gov. Granholm and ask her to FREE Rev. Pinkney as a political prisoner and to investigate why the state corrections department is not allowing media access to him. Address them to Gov. Granholm, P.O. Box 30013, Lansing, MI 48909 or call her at (517) 335-7858.

3) Donate to his legal defense campaign. Send checks for Pinkney’s legal fees to BANCO, 1940 Union St., Benton Harbor, MI 49022. Donations are tax deductible.

4) Write letters to Rev. Pinkney and tell him you support him! Address them to Rev. Edward Pinkney, #294671-G46, Ojibway Correctional Facility, N5705 Ojibway Road, Marenisco, MI 49947-9771 or call him at (906) 787-2217.

5) To sign a petition and find out other ways of helping, see www.bhbanco.blogspot.com.

© 2008 Workers World. This story was originally published Oct. 9, 2008, by Workers World, 55 W. 17th St., New York NY 10011, ww@workers.org, www.workers.org, at www.workers.org/2008/us/pinkney_1016/.

2 thoughts on “Imprisoned Rev. Pinkney runs for U.S. Congress

  1. Annie Garrison

    Oh man. The Jack Nicklaus Golf Course, backed by Whirlpool-backed Harbor Shores Redevelopment, and an heir to the Whirlpool fortune in Congress from this District. Did I get that right? Go Rev. Pinkney!

    Reply

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