by Larry Pinkney, BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
“We believe that every community has the right to define, determine and control institutions, so that they reflect the integrity of the people.” – Huey P. Newton
For well over five years now, Rev. Edward Pinkney (no relation), living in the depths of the de facto apartheid-type township of Benton Harbor, Michigan, has been waging a relentless struggle on behalf of the people of Benton Harbor (Berrien County) against the avaricious, blood sucking, wily Whirlpool Corp. and its mentally somniferous lackeys. This is a struggle not only on behalf of the majority Black municipality of Benton Harbor, Michigan, but it is for all justice-loving people be they Black, White, Brown, Red or Yellow. It has been and remains, a real people’s struggle to “determine and control institutions, so that they reflect the integrity of the people” – in this case Benton Harbor.
Among other machinations, including the so-called Harbor Shores Project, the Cornerstone Alliance on behalf of Whirlpool Corp. appears determined to disenfranchise and gentrify – i.e. ethnically and economically cleanse – Benton Harbor of its Black population and expropriate the land in the majority Black township for an elite, environmentally devastating and poor-people-unfriendly golf course. Rev. Pinkney, back in the years 2007 and 2008, played a pivotal leadership role in organizing against the disenfranchisement of the Benton Harbor community.
For this, Rev. Pinkney was targeted by Berrien County authorities, wrongfully charged with voter fraud, in March 2007 convicted by an all-white jury of said charge and placed on probation – which included being under house arrest – by Berrien County Judge Alfred Butzbaugh, who had presided over Rev. Pinkney’s trial and his subsequent conviction by the all-white jury. Nevertheless, Rev. Pinkney refused to shut up, wrote articles and continued speaking truth to power about the corruption and disenfranchisement in Benton Harbor, Michigan. (Reference the Black Commentator articles titled “Benton Harbor 2007: A Case Study of State Sanctioned Suppression of Black Voting Rights,” dated March 10, 2007, http://www.blackcommentator.com/229/229_keeping_it_real_benton_harbor_voting_rights.html and “Reverend Pinkney Jailed for Exercising Free Speech,” dated Dec. 20, 2007. http://www.blackcommentator.com/258/258_cover_rev_pinkney.html
As a result of this, as Pinkney’s wife Dorothy so poignantly described it: “On June 26, 2008, [Berrien County] Judge Dennis Wiley sentenced my husband to three to 10 years in prison for writing an article against injustice, corporate power, racism and a call to repentance. [Berrien County] Judge Alfred Butzbaugh claimed the article was threatening him because it included a quote from Biblical Scripture, Deuteronomy 28:15.
“Rev. William Wylie-Kellerman testified as a Biblical expert, stating that such a quotation could not be considered a threat. But Judge Wiley ruled in favor of Judge Butzbaugh, who refused to testify.”
Due to this outrage, Rev. Edward Pinkney spent over a year in eight different Michigan prisons, thanks to the ongoing Berrien County corporate and judicial collusion to disenfranchise him and the people of Benton Harbor, Michigan, as a whole.
Nevertheless, and even as a prisoner confined in horrid conditions, Rev. Pinkney garnered over 3,500 votes as the Green Party’s U.S. congressional candidate for Michigan’s 6th district.
In December of 2008, the Michigan appeals court released Rev. Pinkney while considering his free speech case. However, his apartheid-like conditions of house arrest continued. Rev. Pinkney would not relent and continued writing and giving telephone interviews from his home under house arrest.
Then, as reported by the Associated Press in an article dated July 15, 2009, entitled, “Michigan Minister Wins Appeal on Free Speech Grounds,” the Michigan Appeals Court finally decided in a “3-0 ruling” that Rev. Pinkney’s free speech rights had indeed been violated by the actions of Berrien County Judge Dennis Wiley to imprison Rev. Pinkney for having had the audacity to speak truth to power as a representative of his community.
This recent ruling is, as Rev. Edward Pinkney correctly put it, an immensely important and an enormous “victory for the people.” It is but a beginning victory.
Nevertheless, there is so much more work to be done. The original wrongful and absurd Berrien County conviction on voter fraud charges has yet to be overturned, despite what the Michigan Appeals Court itself found were reportedly 13 – that’s right, 13 – so-called “harmless” errors committed by Berrien County court authorities in Rev. Pinkney’s original and outrageous conviction.
Moreover, he remains under house arrest with an electronic tether on his ankle as if he is some dangerous criminal. These are intolerable affronts not only to Rev. Pinkney but just as importantly to the people of Benton Harbor collectively, and to all justice-loving peoples of all colors and ethnicities – to all of us! Thus, the struggle continues, even as the wily Judge Wiley of Berrien County and his judicial and corporate cohorts must be held accountable for their continuing ravages against the everyday people of Benton Harbor, Michigan.
And so, my sisters and brothers, the beginning victory of Rev. Edward Pinkney belongs to all of us, but so does the ongoing struggle.
Onward, as we refuse to be distracted and disempowered by the slimy, opportunist corporate media. Onward, as we choose the course of real systemic change over the continuation of business as usual disguised under fake rhetoric, platitudes and inverted insult. Onward, my Black, White, Brown, Red and Yellow brothers and sisters – for we are all in this struggle together.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Larry Pinkney is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In connection with his political organizing activities in opposition to voter suppression etc., Pinkney was interviewed in 1988 on the nationally televised PBS NewsHour, formerly known as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. For more about Larry Pinkney, see the book, “Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker,” by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn]. Read excerpts from the book at http://www.struggle-and-win.net/13201/43480.html. Larry Pinkney writes the weekly column “Keeping It Real” for BlackCommentator.com. Email him at Lecconsult@aol.com.