from Benton Harbor BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization)
May 2, 2016
David Sole, 3 1 3 6 8 0 5 5 0 8; Joe Peery, 3 1 2 7 8 8 0 3 8 0
Court of Appeals Hearing for Faith Leader, Activist, in Election Fraud CaseConstitutional rights violations alleged in case of Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor
GRAND RAPIDS—After 17 months behind bars, Rev. Edward Pinkney, 67, will have his case heard Wednesday, May 11, 10am at the Court of Appeals in Grand Rapids. A press conference will be held outside the courthouse at 11:30am after the hearing. A panel of three judges will hear arguments from Rev. Pinkney’s attorney, Tim Holloway. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) both filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the appeal. Mark Fancher of the Racial Justice Project at the ACLU will also deliver oral arguments.
The defense appeal brief argues, in part, that Rev. Pinkney’s trial violated the Michigan Rules of Evidence and his Constitutional rights to free speech and due process when Pinkney’s political and community activities were admitted as evidence. A veteran community activist from Benton Harbor, Pinkney was convicted last November on five felony counts of forgery based on allegations that he changed five dates on a petition intended to recall Mayor James Hightower. He maintains his innocence and was sentenced to 30 to 120 months in prison. He is currently incarcerated in Marquette Branch Prison where he says he has been targeted with racist harassment, threats, and intimidation from correctional officers.
“There are so many violations of Rev. Pinkney’s rights it’s hard to believe. Three witnesses stated emphatically that Rev. Pinkney was not present when another person altered the petition,” said Michigan civil rights attorney Hugh Buck Davis. “The prosecutor in the case was allowed to use Rev. Pinkney’s community activism as evidence. This is a serious violation of the Reverend’s First Amendment rights and due process. When the defense attorney raised objections, the judge called his constitutionally-based arguments ‘emotional rhetoric.’”
Pinkney and his supporters believe his human rights activism has made him a target of political persecution by local government and business interests. Pinkney’s arrest warrant for the non-violent charges was served by a SWAT team surrounding his home at gunpoint. Such tactics, Pinkney says, are designed to intimidate all Benton Harbor residents who speak up against Whirlpool Corporation and local officials. Supporters charge that the unjustified prosecution amounts to election fraud.
Pinkney and other members of the Benton Harbor community group, BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization), have lead multiple petition drives to recall local officials as one strategy of their campaign to promote democracy, civil rights, and economic justice in the county. Whirlpool Corp. is headquartered in Benton Harbor, which is 96% African-American and has among the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the state. Mayor Hightower’s opposition to a city income tax that would have affected Whirlpool Corp. resulted in the community’s effort to recall him.
BANCO and Pinkney have protested the four emergency managers, appointed by the governor under Michigan’s controversial Emergency Manager Law, who have operated the city instead of democratically-elected officials. BANCO was also among the most vocal opponents of the Harbor Shores golf course and luxury development that appropriated lakeshore land formerly designated as a Benton Harbor city park. BANCO and supporters around the region plan to protest this year’s Senior PGA tournament on May 28 in Benton Harbor.