Friday, March 31, 2006

A People's Victory declared in Benton Harbor struggle for Justice!

The city power structure in Benton Harbor, controlled by the Whirlpool Corporation, was dealt a blow in the struggle for justice today. The people made a stand for democracy and won! The trial of Rev. Pinkney was declared a mistrial. The jury was deadlocked after over 20 hours. The jury was convinced that further deliberations would be useless. It is possible that the prosecution may try the case again. Whatever they do -- we stand on this tremendous victory, our growing unity and clarity about what we're up against and the just world we can win, as we get ready for the next round of struggle.

Rev. Pinkney told supporters: "I am truly truly happy about the outcome of this trial. I was innocent from the start. I knew they were convinced they would convict me. I knew they couldn't because they didn't have the goods. I thank everyone for coming. This is not about me. It was a victory for the people. We have to teach people to stand up and fight. Fight for what's right. If I can do it, you can do it. This is a tremendous victory. Next step is that we have to take this across the country. First, make sure that Governor Granholm doesn't get back in there. We have to connect. Start from Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, and connect all the way down to Benton Harbor. She put the judge in office. We can show we can stand up and fight.

Tat Parish, Reverend Pinkney's lawyer said: "That these 12 good people could not agree he was guilty vindicates our position in this case. It is possible that the prosecutor may try the case again. There was so much conflicting testimony from so many people who had so many conflicting motives in this case. The truth is that it is the sort of case where the dead skunk gets thrown up on the porch and it is almost impossible to figure out among the many people testifying who is telling the truth and who is being influencing by what -- it is a political nightmare and one that no one's interests will be served by further ventures in a criminal court. It is over with it. It should be over with. I hope we don't have to retry it. Rev. Pinkney's views may not be popular. His views may not be popular. But the very unpopularity of his views make it important that they be expressed."

After 20 Hours of Jury Deadlock, Judge, Prosecutor Have to Accept Pinkney Mistrial

A draw feels like a win to community activist Rev. Edward Pinkney today. And, by the end or the week, he may know whether the Berrien County Prosecutor's Office will spend more time and money trying for a rematch -- or admit defeat.

At about 1:30pm today, the jury in the prosecution of Pinkney in connection with his efforts on last year's successful but later overturned recall of Benton Harbor City Commissioner Glenn Yarborough told Judge Albert Butzbaugh again that they could not reach a verdict on any of the five charges brought against Pinkney.

The half day of deliberations followed 15 hours in two days last week. Near the end of the day on Friday, after viewing videotapes of the testimony of three shaky prosecution witnesses, jurors sent out their first message to Judge Butzbaugh saying they were at an impasse.

But Butzbaugh rejected Pinkney attorney Tat Parish's request to recognize a mistrial then and there, and called the jury to come back in today and try again to reach unanimity on one or more of the allegations of voter fraud and related accusations against Rev. Pinkney.

However, today Butzbaugh and Assistant Prosecutor Gerald Vigansky accepted that two weeks of trial and testimony, with witnesses on the stand who contradicted their previous affidavits and/or taped depositions, had failed to convince the jury that any of the accusations were true beyond a reasonable doubt.

The prosecutor's office is reportedly adopting its usual practice after a mistrial: they will talk to any of the jurors who will talk to them about "what went wrong" with their case, and decide by the end of the week or so whether or not to try to try Rev. Pinkney again.

Pinkney, feeling tired but vindicated, is already planning to get back to "business as usual" -- his regular volunteer efforts to keep a watchful eye over activities at the county courthouse on "the other side of the river" in Saint Joseph. He is also aiming to revive his efforts to bring jobs to the beleaguered community.

Another forum of BANCO, the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization, is tentatively planned for Saturday, April 29. The time and place are yet to be determined.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Statewide Meeting Supports Rev. Pinkney in Benton Harbor

Activist faces felony prosecution for exposing racism and corporate greed

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

Read the rest of this excellent article detailing the March 11th rally and background on the trial here.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Trial update

Trial reports from 3 different people

Closing arguments for Rev. Pinkney's trial were on Wed: short, inaudible, and extremely weak argument from the prosecutor; long, strong, and riveting argument from the defense attorney.

At about 3:30 on Friday, March 24, after two days of deliberation, the jury sent a note out to the judge saying they were at an impasse on all five charges, and asking what they should do now.

The judge decided that, while 15 hours of deliberations might be a fairly long time, this was the first word the jury had sent out -- so he sent them back to try again to reach some decision(s). They will continue deliberations on Monday.

The more people who show up, the better. Rev. Pinkney believes he most likely would have been convicted by now if it weren't for all the people who have been attending his trial. However, he can't count on all the people who have shown up to come again on Monday. So, please try to attend - 8:30am, Berrien County Courthouse, exit 33 off I-94.

Rev Pinkney was a picture book witness. Prosecutor Gerald Vigansky was no match for Rev. Pinkney and his attorney, Tat Parrish. The judge behaved as if he was part of the prosecution and will now be known as Judge "One Sided" Butzbaugh.

As Rev. Pinkney left the courthouse today he saw sheriff Bailey and told him, "You had better not send out your officers to harass the jury members."

Rev. Pinkney testified that: 1) he was not present when anyone voted their absentee ballot in last February's election to recall corrupt city commissioner Glen Yarbrough 2) he did nothing to influence anyone while they were voting 3) he never had possession of anyone's ballot 4) he had several conversations with former city clerk Jean Nesbitt around the time of the election and afterwards because of his concern for her - he told her he believed they would overturn the election and fire her, which is exactly what happened, and said he would pray for her 5) he told Ms. Nesbitt that it was not about her, but about himself - the Berrien County government "want me bad" - he wanted to warn her to make her strong since she didn't have a clue about what was going to happen to her.

Ms. Nesbitt was fired after a false investigation and a corrupt civil trial.

from earlier in the week:

The Judge is openly in favor of the prosecution. They are moving in for the kill. We are confident that the truth will win out and that the Jury will vote for acquittal. This case is about more than one person. It is about the future of a whole community -- versus the profits of the rich, and those corrupt politicians, prosecutors, judges who have allied with them for their own personal gain and greed.

The prosecution doesn't have a leg to stand on so they have resorted to character assassination - the Judge is overruling all objections to this travesty. They are painting a picture of Rev. Pinkney as taking advantage of those who are "down and out" when in reality he has organized his life around the defense of the poor. Rev. Pinkney and other leaders have been struggling for the people to exercise their voting rights against a corrupt, corporate-run power structure that is selling off their town. The real criminals - those with the power -- are the conspirators. They intend to get Reverend Pinkney first. But they are also going after anyone who dares to stand up.

This is one battle in a long war for justice. And, it is part of a larger battle that is unfolding across the country as the jobs leave and as defenseless communities undergo vicious attacks by corporate developers and corrupt local, state and national officials who care only about their pocketbook. What they don't realize is that they cannot stop the struggle for justice.

3/18 Trial update

Rev. Pinkney takes the stand on Tues. and Wed. of the coming week (3/21, 3/22). The trial will begin this week on Tues. and last until Wed. or Thurs.

Last week was the first week of the trial. The judge showed very obvious and almost extreme partiality towards the prosecution. "It's as if he's one of the prosecutors", said Rev. Pinkney. Another striking thing was how the prosecution's witnesses lacked credibility.

One Benton Harbor woman commented at the end of one of the days, "In Benton Harbor people are now afraid that if they vote, police will come to their house."

Here are two different peoples' reports:

Benton Harbor community leader Reverend Edward Pinkney went on trial this past Wednesday on charges of electoral fraud. If convicted he could face 20 years in prison.

Last Saturday there was a rally in Benton Harbor organized by BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization), the community group led by Rev. Pinkney. I would estimate that between 100 and 150 people attended. A whole busload of folks came down from Detroit, as well as smaller contingents from all over Michigan and some folks from Chicago. Among the speakers were Rev. Pinkney himself, General Baker, Marian Kramer, Maureen Taylor, and the head of a network of Black nationalist radio stations headquartered in Washington, DC (I don't recall his name off the top of my head). The crowd was roughly 75% Black, 20% white and 5% Latino. The rally was followed by a spirited march around the Benton Harbor police station. Though only a small handful of Benton Harborites attended the rally itself we got a lot of horn honks and sympathetic folks observing the march from their front yard.

6 witnesses for the defense backed out near the last minute, apparently due to police harrassment. It seems like it's a fairly regular practice for police to pay visits to local supporters of Reverend Pinkney warning them that it's a bad idea to associate with him. In any event, the defense still has 17 witnesses lined up.

I attended the first day of the trial on Wednesday. There are 8 white men, 4 white women and 2 Black women on the jury, which Rev. Pinkney's wife Dorothy told me was a victory; apparently they were expecting an all white jury. Of the 4 witnesses testifying on Wednesday for the prosecution, one did not say anything particularly damning from what I could tell, 2 had drug problems and the other, a woman from Kalamazoo, registered to vote in the Benton Harbor recall election under the false pretense that she'd be moving there within 30 days of the election. It seems that most of the prosecution's witnesses have something to lose by not going along with the frameup against Pinkney.

I called Rev. Pinkney last night for an update on the day's proceedings. The prosecution was still calling witnesses but it sounded like things had gone very well for the defense. One of the prosecution's witnesses apparently flip-flopped on the stand, coming out and saying that the police had forced him to present false testimony and threatened him with trouble if he didn't. Needless to say, this really shook the prosecution.

Anyway, that's where things stand now. The trial will probably run at least until next Wednesday or Thursday. If anyone from Detroit, Ypsi/A2, Chicago, or anywhere else can take a day to go to the Berrien County courthouse in St. Joseph, MI to show your support, that would be very welcome.

The trial completed its third day and is expected to go to jury on Tuesday. The government witnesses have been discredited. Although the state needs very little to convict anyone, the defense is thinking positive that the truth will win out. The witnesses have some history with drugs, arrests, the police or prison and were obviously threatened into testifying; a sad glimpse of how the state uses the poor to fight the poor to maintain the wealth and power of the corporations/privileged few. The Judge is preventing the defense from bringing the drug background to the jury. At one point the lawyer was threatened with criminal charges for bringing out the drug history of a witness.

The City Clerk testified. The prosecution tried to make it seem that there was some kind of conspiracy between PInkney and the former clerk around absentee ballots but this didn't hold water. It is also worth noting that the state investigated the clerk following the recall, but found no grounds to charge her with anything. Yet she was fired from her job after the recall. She is suing the city in an upcoming trial to be held in Grand Rapids.

Grassroots leaders from Benton Harbor, and other cities, are attending the trial. Everyone knows what's at stake. Whirlpool, Cornerstone, the local power structure -- the powers that be -- need a free hand to sell off the city and are stopping at nothing to guarantee their profits. The Defense Committee is asking people to write the Governor of Michigan to get the charges dropped. The governor already stated she can do nothing about local trials, but it's still good to have people act. The defense committee is asking for people to attend the trial on Tuesday.