FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Michigan

An all-white jury in St. Joseph, Michigan has found Rev. Edward Pinkney guilty of five felony counts of forgery stemming from a recall campaign against Mayor James Hightower of Benton Harbor earlier this year.

The jury deliberated for nine hours and delivered the verdict on Nov. 3. The sentencing date has been set for Dec. 15.

Hightower was the subject of the recall campaign due to his refusal to support a local income tax measure designed to create employment for the people in Benton Harbor, located in Berrien County in the southwest region of the state of Michigan. Hightower is often accused by residents of Benton Harbor of being more concerned about the well-being of Whirlpool Corporation and other business interests than the people he is sworn to protect and serve.

During the five day trial not one witness said they saw Pinkney change any dates or signatures on the recall petitions. The prosecutor, Mike Sepic, during the opening arguments on Oct. 27 told the jury that they would not hear anyone say that they witnessed the defendant engaging in fraud.unnamed

The prosecutor’s case was supposed to be based on circumstantial evidence. Nonetheless, the tenor of the questioning by the prosecutor seemed to suggest that the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), the group Pinkney leads in Berrien County, was actually on trial for its uncompromising opposition to the role of Whirpool Corporation and its supporters within the political establishment in Benton Harbor and its environs.

Prosecution Witnesses Supported Recall

In the testimony of eight witnesses called by the prosecution on the first day of the trial, they all supported the recall of Mayor Hightower. The witnesses said that they never saw Pinkney change any petitions.

Prosecution witness Bridgett Gilmore told the court that she circulated the recall petitions for George E. Moon and had no contact with Pinkney during the process. While the prosecutor asked her about what appeared to be minor changes on the petitions she circulated, defense lawyer Tat Parrish pointed out that none of these pages in question were the ones which Pinkney was charged with altering.

Gilmore noted that two types of ink were used on some of the signatures because the circulation process took place during the winter and a pen would freeze requiring the usage of another one. When Gilmore turned over the petitions to Moon, Pinkney was not present.

“There were many people calling for Hightower’s recall,” she said.

Another witness called by the prosecution, Majorie Carter, indicated that she received the recall petitions from the City Clerk’s office. Carter supported the recall because she believed that businesses should pay taxes to create jobs in Benton Harbor, a majority African American city which suffers from extremely high unemployment.

Carter said that she was a registered voter and had campaigned for candidates before. She noted that she had run for City Commissioner in the past.

“I collected signatures for the recall from my apartment complex for seniors,” she said. “One signer corrected a date on the petition.”

Mable Louise Avant testified after being called to the stand by the prosecution. She said she had met Pinkney at a BANCO meeting.

“I had been living in New York and when I returned and saw how Benton Harbor had gone down, something needed to be done,” Avant said.

“People make mistakes,” she emphasized. “Rev. Pinkney had nothing to do with the mistakes. I turned over the petitions to Rev. Pinkney.”

The petitions that Avant circulated were not the ones that Pinkney was accused of altering.

Benton Harbor resident George E. Moon also took the stand for the prosecution and said he circulated petitions for the recall of Hightower. When asked by the prosecutor where he got the idea about recalling the mayor, Moon responded by saying that “My ideology is different than the mayor. People should be elected and not bought.”

“I am an activist,” Moon declared. He said he had spoken out in favor of the recall in the community.

Overall more than 700 people signed the recall petitions most of which were validated by the local election commission. A date was set for the recall election.

Nonetheless, after Pinkney was indicted and placed under house arrest for several weeks, the recall election was cancelled by a local judge raising questions about the signatures. Yet later, another judge certified the petitions and authorized the recall election to proceed.

The local authorities in Berrien County challenged the election that was scheduled for November 4. The Michigan Court of Appeals then cancelled the recall elections again.

Hightower remains in office and was called as a prosecution witness during the first day of the trial.

James Cornelius, a Benton Harbor resident, who sponsored the recall campaign against Hightower, took the stand saying that he got the petitions from Pinkney to circulate. “Hightower was not doing a good job,” Cornelius told the court.

Many of the prosecution questions related to the meetings, ideology, membership and leadership of BANCO. During the course of the prosecution’s questioning of witnesses numerous observers were ejected from the courtroom for various reasons.

One activist who traveled from Detroit was told he had to leave because he was “smirking.” Another observer from Detroit was asked to leave because they shook their head in disbelieve of the proceedings which she felt presented no evidence to incriminate Pinkney.

Rev. Pinkney Will Seek a Delay in Sentencing

After the announcement of the verdict, Pinkney indicated that he was disappointed with the decisions of the all-white jury. This is the second time within seven years that he has been convicted by a Berrien County jury.

In 2007, Pinkney was found guilty of tampering with absentee ballots involving another recall campaign against two Benton Harbor City Commissioners. He was sentenced to one year of house arrest and four years of probation.

However, in December of 2007, while under house arrest, Pinkney was charged with threatening the life of a Berrien County judge after he published an article in the People’s Tribune newspaper quoting biblical scriptures. He was sentenced to 3-10 years for violating his probation.

A national campaign involving the Michigan ACLU along with numerous community, academic and religious organizations resulted in a successful appeal that released Pinkney from a state prison after serving one year. He has continued to be a major critic of the authorities in Berrien County.

In 2010, BANCO opposed the transferal of land from Jean Klock Park to a privately-owned venture known as Harbor Shores Development. The park, which had been designated for free public usage in 1917, was turned into the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course on Lake Michigan.

Two years later in 2012, BANCO organized the “Occupy the PGA” to oppose the holding of the senior tournaments in Benton Harbor that year. Hundreds attended the march and rally drawing the ire of the local business interests and county officials.

On the most recent convictions for felony forgery, Pinkney said “I was in shock more than anything else because I could not believe they could find me guilty with no evidence at all. They have proven the fact you don’t need evidence to send someone to prison.”

Pinkney went on to say that “Sometimes somebody has to take a bullet and I just took one -it was in the leg though, it wasn’t in the heart. I’ve got about 45 good days and then we are definitely going to request a delay in sentencing.”

Berrien County Prosecutor Mike Sepic said after the convictions that “Each of those felony counts carries a 5 year maximum, but he has at least three prior felony convictions. That makes him a habitual offender, which turns those five year maximums into a life maximum and actually elevates the guidelines that will be scored for him as well. I believe it will be either a lengthy jail sentence or prison sentence.”

Supporters of Rev. Pinkney are outraged by the jury verdict. Many of them are committed to working for an appeal of the convictions.

Legacy of Racism and National Oppression in Berrien County

Berrien County is notorious for its racism against African Americans. Police brutality, large-scale home foreclosures, high unemployment and the systematic forcing of people from the majority African American city of Benton Harbor has been standard policy for years.

In 2003, after the police chased an African American motorcyclist resulting in a crash and his death, the African American community in Benton Harbor rose up in rebellion that last for several days. Although the-then Gov. Jennifer Granholm pledged to provide assistance for the improvement of conditions in Benton Harbor, no action was taken other than the privatization of Jean Klock Park and the appointment of an emergency manager in 2010.

Although Benton Harbor is ostensibly out from under emergency management, the city is subjected to the more powerful and predominantly white St. Joseph, where the county court system is based. The fact that an all-white jury was impaneled in such a racially sensitive case in an area with deep historical tensions, speaks volumes in regard to the lack of sensitivity existing among the county authorities and the corporate interests.

Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of Pan-African News Wire.

More articles by:

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail