Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Letter to Amnesty International USA

This is the text of a letter that a supporter sent to AIUSA in Chicago, explaining why Rev. Pinkney's case is a human rights concern:

I want to alert AIUSA of a case that may be of interest to you. I understand that AIUSA is limited in the number and type of cases you can take on, but I hope that you can take a moment to learn about this one. I believe that an activist and civil rights leader is at risk of being framed on false charges, being denied a fair trial, being imprisoned for his political activism rather than valid charges, and facing mistreatment in prison.

The case concerns Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan. I don't know how familiar you are with Benton Harbor. Visiting there is like stepping back into the pre-civil rights era. There is an extreme racial and economic division between Benton Harbor (95% black, over 50% real unemployment) and neighboring St. Joseph (95% white, 2% unemployment) and an imbalance of power. Frustration with injustices there have sparked periodic race riots over many decades.

Rev. Pinkney has been the most vocal critic of the county's police and judicial systems. He has long maintained that the system is extremely racially biased and politically corrupt. For five years (until January 2005), he maintained a daily vigil at the courthouse, witnessing court whenever it was in session. He organized a weekly march on the courthouse in St. Joseph with local citizens. He founded a community group (BANCO) to organize around these concerns. After the nationally-publicized riots of June 2003 (provoked by an incident involving a police chase and the death of a local black man), Rev. Pinkney and BANCO organized a mass protest march and worked to draw outside attention to not only the issue of police brutality (already well-publicized), but also the racial bias in the judicial system. The history of this struggle can be reviewed in the press releases at BANCO's Web site: http://bhbanco.blogspot.com

In February, BANCO led a successful election to recall a city commissioner (Glen Yarbrough) who supported the former police chief (Sam Harris, who recently resigned in the face of dozens of citizen complaints of police brutality and sexual harassment). In April, the recall vote was overturned and Rev. Pinkney was arrested and charged with four felonies and a misdemeanor, alleging his involvement in alleged election fraud. To date, at least two witnesses have submitted testimony that suggests that Rev. Pinkney is being framed and that the allegations of fraud are false (see here). In light of this testimony, supporters believe the charges should have already been dropped and the recall vote restored.

There is a valid concern that Rev. Pinkney cannot get a fair trial, fair sentencing, or fair treatment in the county where he has been the foremost watchdog and critic of the county’s judges, prosecutors, defenders, police, and politicians. Last week, Judge Paul Maloney denied a motion to disqualify himself and other local judges from hearing Rev. Pinkney’s case. Judge Maloney claimed that he never noticed his own name and the names of the county’s other judges on the signs of BANCO protesters outside the courthouse or on the T-shirt worn by BANCO members. This claim is not very credible and already suggests that Rev. Pinkney will not receive a fair trial from Judge Maloney. The denial of the motion will be appealed.

Raising the profile of this case regionally and nationally would increase the likelihood of a fair trial by a less-biased judge from outside the county. If Rev. Pinkney is sent to prison in Berrien County, I believe it will be because of his political activism. My fear is that in prison he would be in physical danger. Allegations of abuse in the county’s prison are many and longstanding and a resident reported being told by a policeman after the Reverend's arrest: "Your voice in this town is gone. Pinkney won't last long in jail." I think these are the sort of human rights abuses that AI has addressed very successfully abroad. Now we're in danger of it happening in our own backyard.

Please consider taking on Rev. Pinkney's case. If that is not possible at this time, please consider at least tracking it as the case goes to trial. There is further background information at BANCO's Web site (see here). You can also contact me or Rev. Pinkney at 269-925-0001 or banco9342@sbcglobal.net.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.


Anonymous said...

As a former member of Amnesty International I would be ashamed to write or have written a letter in support of a destructive orginization such as BANCO. Working directly with the community in Benton Harbor I have first hand knowledge of the discord caused by the muckraking that Pinkney has done and continues to do.

If BANCO wanted to truly help Benton Harbor more effort would be made not to take money from the city in frivolous recall attempts as the city is nearly in recievership anyway.

I am sure that this post will be removed as it shows a difference of oppinion.

Jacquelyn said...

Dear Anonymous,

Differences of opinion are welcome here, as long as they are not expressed in offensive language. After all, most of us aspire to live in a democratic society. That's why a recall vote isn't frivolous--it's a legitimate right of the citizens of Benton Harbor. To suggest that citizens should not exercise their right to democratic political participation because it might be too expensive sounds ludicrous to me.

I would hope that you, as a former member of Amnesty International, would be able to distinguish between your political differences with BANCO and the human rights concerns around Rev. Pinkney's case. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial, period.

Anonymous said...

I guess my opion is, is that if Rev.Pickney would not do criminal acts to get someone out of office he would not have to worry about going to jail. BANCO tries to continually get persons that effectively run the city out of office. If someone supports the police dept or someone that BANCO does not support then they try and ruin them. I find this immature and very shamefull. Does BANCO do anything that supports this city? For example anything for the kids or community I have not seen it. Why is that. Should BANCO get some kids stuff going or throw a party for the community instead of trying to get the citizen's all fired up about things that BANCO can not prove. If you write it then it should be true. Please quit putting in there suspected police brutality or political disasters when in realtiy BANCO has not shown one true thing at all. Let's all grow up and quit living in the 1910 and 1920's this is 2005. Past is the past and I see a bright future. There are some real influential african americans out there that should be recogzied that I have seen. One thing I do not see is BANCO praising them I just BANCO complaing. As for whirlpool they have given and given I do not see where you come from on that one.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anonymous here. I'll just be Anonymous 2, I guess.

I've only been in Benton Harbor for a year, but I've only heard negative things from BANCO. Are there meetings to improve the city and surrounding area? Or are there only meetings to becry the perceived injustices seen in the county?

I have a bad feeling that Mr. Pinkney is really only in the business of organizing people for his own benefit, not for the benefit of the people of BH. If he was for the people, he would realize that negatives are overcome by positive behavior, not from continued negativity. Rather than see what Whirlpool has done for the community, he'd rather see what they have not done for him personally. That is what I fear.

The thing I would most like explained is how there were nearly as many absentee ballots cast in Yarborough's recall election as in the 2004 national election. The percentage was nearing 50% for the recall and about 2% for the national election. To me, that doesn't make much sense.

Anonymous said...

I live in Benton Harbor ,Mi.I am a christian psychologist and family counselor.Grace and peace in the name of the LORD.
It is entirely possible that proponents of the recall orchestrated a shrew-but legal campaign by getting enought anti-yarbrough voters to cast absentee ballots,which is more reliable than campaigning in the winter and then trying to get people to the polls on election day.
AFRO-AMERICAN do not go to the polls.When it is cold.just another berrien county witch hunt.

Anonymous said...

Shrewd? It would be, but he lied to them telling them things about jobs and such if they voted yes.

Sad thing is, the recall would probably have succeeded without his "help".

As for the section of the letter to AI concerning Judge Maloney not being able to try the case properly, who COULD do so when the entire premise of BANCO seems to be down with the establishment?