Charges of widespread civil rights violations in Berrien County have been levied by The Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor. Rev. Pinkney has cited numerous cases of racial injustice which he said basically amount to "crimes against humanity" in violation of U.S. constitutional guarantees. "What is going on here amounts to travesties of justice," the activist pastor said, and pinpointed the following eight instances of questionable misuse of authority in Berrien County.
1. After taking two surveys of over 2500 Benton Harbor residents, Pinkney has found that not one of them has received a jury questionnaire in the mail. He has learned that the Benton Harbor zip code has been eliminated from the mailing so as to ensure all white juries.
2. Court appointed indigent all white attorneys Ernest White, Michael Renfro, and Rodney Fuller openly practice racism. For example, they never meet with Black defendants until five minutes before a hearing whereupon they demand the defendant plead guilty. They never, ever visit a Black defendant in jail, and if the defendant is at home, they never, ever set up an appointment in their office. 99% of the time they do not meet with Black defendants until they are in the courtroom!
3. All Berrien County attorneys are white, and all of their offices are in St. Joseph.
4. All current court appointed public defenders also continue private practices. And, their sizeable public defender salaries are drawn from a half a million dollar budget.
5. The contract terms state that attorneys who bid must be in good standing with the state bar. Attorney James Jesse has been awarded contracts and maintained contracts while having his law license suspended by the state bar in 1983 and again in 2000.
6. Every defendant should have a lawyer who makes certain that his case is investigated if need be, but in Berrien County investigators for indigent defendants are never hired.
7. The chief judge has been quoted as saying that the system works fine and will never change. Berrien County Commissioners feel the system works fine and also want no change. So, the Commissioners refuse to improve the system or to promote programs which would decrease racism.
8. The Commissioners use Benton Harbor to receive grant money, then funnel the money into other communities.
Rev. Pinkney's charges against the county's legal system were made prior to a demonstration on Thursday, Jan. 29 beginning at 10 a.m. in front of the county administration building, 701 Main in St. Joseph. The last such "march for justice" was held in a blizzard which didn't daunt the spirit of the occasion, Pickney explained, issuing an invitation for greater public support of the event.
For more information about the forum, call Rev. Edward Pinkney at 269-925-0001 or
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