Editors Note: The following are excerpts from Attorney Hugh M. Davis’ talk at a Pinkney Defense Fund meeting in Detroit, Michigan:
This case arises out of the poorest city in Michigan. Its most valuable land is sought by corporate interests. By virtue of their control of the county, they control the courts. The parade of people going before the criminal courts are almost all poor, and disproportionately Black; although we cannot ignore what they do to the Hispanic and poor white community. The thrust is to physically remove and destroy families through the use of the criminal justice system. Every person they can put in jail; every person whose voting rights they can revoke with a felony conviction; every person they can cause to lose their job by putting them on probation; every person that they can cause to lose the ability to pay for basic necessities through imposing ruinous court costs and probation is all part of the process. In the 1960s, it was called Negro removal. In Bosnia, it was called ethnic cleansing. It could be called genocide the removal of the minority population for the purpose of the redevelopment of the land. That’s what’s happening in Benton Harbor and the foremost leader of the resistance is Rev. Edward Pinkney.
The probation officers in the county tried to find out everywhere Pinkney has gone and everything he has said or written. With his life under such extraordinary scrutiny and having him on tether, if they could get him on anything, they would have. They didn’t and they can’t. So, what did they do? They took his writings about the Bible in the People’s Tribune and decided it was a violation of his probation. The first claim was that he called the courts in the county racist, corrupt and ignorant. He had been doing that for a long time. Nothing new. And even the judge could not bring himself to claim this was not protected speech under the First Amendment. The judge then read a paragraph where the judge himself was personally mentioned and where Pinkney quoted Deuteronomy about what God shall visit upon the iniquitous. The judge determined that this was a potential threat. Then he disqualified himself and the case was assigned to the reputedly most notorious racist on the bench (no small honor), the Honorable Dennis Wiley.
So we undertook a campaign. Pinkney spent seven months in the most horrendous conditions inside the Berrien County jail. We knew that if this case ever came before a judge of that bench, they would not only revoke his probation, but they could put him in prison. Pinkney bore it heroically. Pinkney, under continuous attack inside the jail, never stopped fighting, never lost hope. We went before Judge Wiley. The prosecution took the November copy of the People’s Tribune, entered it into evidence and never called a witness. We produced an eminent theologian who explained that biblical prophesy of the wrath of God upon the iniquitous was not a personal threat, an invitation of violence or a true threat under the Constitution of the U.S. Rev. Pinkney testified that he believes that sin will receive retribution. It is protected activity under the First Amendment. But he was found guilty of violating his probation. Then Wiley gave him every minute he could, doubling the recommendation of the prosecutor, doubling the recommendation of the probation department, 3-10 years in prison.
This judge actually said on the record that ‘I believe that Pinkney did not intend to threaten the judge, but he has a direct connection to God.’ He might. But, if it is true, Pinkney will still have that divine connection in prison and the wicked are no safer. So what’s the point? To remove the leader of the resistance from the community as long as possible, regardless of the shame that it will certainly bring down on Berrien County? It is ridiculous and we believe that it will become a national issue. But all the people that hear about it nationally are not necessarily going to organize, write letters and fundraise. That’s our job.
The ACLU has agreed to take the case as Rev. Pinkney’s direct representatives. On the original conviction, the National Lawyer’s Guild has filed in the Michigan Court of Appeals a 115 page brief (that’s 65 pages more than the limit) raising 13 arguments about how Pinkney’s conviction was unlawful. The Court of Appeals accepted the entire brief. The prosecution will reply in September. Second, we filed with the Governor’s office a Petition for Clemency, which is an area where political action, letters of support, etc. can make a difference. The more strength we build, the more possible it will be to persuade Jennifer Granholm to grant clemency or vacate the conviction. We will also file a motion for bond pending appeal.
DOROTHY PINKNEY SPEAKS:
It’s a kangaroo court. It’s a Ku Klux Klan county. They are just an organized criminal ring. The judge said my husband had too much influence over people. They look at him as a threat to interfere with their plans for Harbor Shores. As long as he’s confined in prison, they feel secure to go ahead and do what they need to do illegally. My husband’s in a good mood. He’s a warrior, a fighter and has refused to let anything defuse him. The county never went up against a man like him. Others have been bought and sold but he can’t be.
BELINDA BROWN, HEAD OF PINKNEY DEFENSE COMMITTEE SPEAKS:
I am the person that heads the Rev. Pinkney Defense Fund. My husband and I were there to support Rev. Pinkney. Shortly after that my husband was fired. His boss was one of the members who sat on Cornerstone (Whirlpool.) Even though there is outrage over the corruption in the court system, people are afraid because so many have suffered under these people. They make up the laws as they go. We successfully recalled the corrupt city commissioner and the judge threw out the vote. Whirlpool needed his vote to sell the lakefront property. We were fixing to sweep through and get them all out of those seats. This is prime property. Pastor Pinkney was getting people excited about taking our city back from Whirlpool and people were following him and they had hope. Now we know why he is prison. The world should be outraged. We need to raise funds for Pastor Pinkney’s defense.