Thursday, January 01, 2009

Tracking a Champion

by Phil Bassett,

I know a winner when I see one. I could sense it in Edward Pinkney the first time I saw him speak in 2005. Since then, I've watched him brave assaults on his dignity that would have sent lesser men to the crazy house or to their grave.
Just before Thanksgiving, I secured a TV studio equipped with a speakerphone and a fifteen-minute appointment to interview Rev. Pinkney. My friend John Mann was with me, and we waited tensely in the minutes before the appointed time, wondering if it was all going to fall through. If you know anything about the judicial system, you will know why we were concerned.
When Pinkney comes on, his no-nonsense attitude is evident, his spirit untouched by his current surroundings. He tells a story about a guard accusing him of doing others' legal work (is that a crime?), shaking him down and breaking his radio. He then relates how another guard told him to take his radio to have it repaired only to be accused, when he got there, of being there without permission. He talks about life at Ojibway: "…you are in a place where you don't have soap to wash your hands…" and, using toilet paper, "you roll one sheet at a time." Although his voice always carries a hint of humor, he states matter-of-factly, "I'm very concerned about not only my health, but also my safety."
John asked him why they arrested him the day after Cynthia McKinney came to town to support him. He says simply, "They can't stand to see that much power in one man."
He states emphatically, "We have to channel our energy toward justice for all, not one, two, three people… We have to think of every single person—even the ones who don't want to fight, even the ones who don't want to stand up. We have to stand up for them, to show them there is another way of doing things"
He insists that this fight is not about him. If that were the case, he says, "If they get rid of me, they get rid of everybody." Unfortunately for Berrien County, the opposite has happened: putting the Reverend in a cage has only opened them up for ever greater scrutiny, as the ACLU is now bringing Pinkney's appeal. The National Lawyers Guild has teamed up with him as well. Perhaps the rampant racism that passes for justice in St. Joe will be dragged out in the light for a little while.
Fast-forward to December 18th—a hearing in the BC courthouse to decide the amount of Pinkney's bail pending his appeal. The magistrate, Dennis Wiley, puts me in the mind of a cowboy in a judge suit. I've got a few adjectives to describe him, but "judicious" is not one of them. He sits fuming, hair uncombed, trying to look like a calm bloody lunatic, inventing new ways to stall this proceeding. But this time, with the young ACLU guns present, even the assistant prosecutor is not going along with the usual miscarriage of justice in good old St. Joe. Although the judge practically insisted that he take a few days to come up with written arguments, he didn't take the bait, and the hearing rolls on. As of this writing, though, Pinkney has still not been released. The last I heard, Wiley refused to sign the necessary papers to allow him to return home to his wife.
Last night, I spoke to Dorothy Pinkney. Although her husband isn't home yet, she sees light at the end of the tunnel. "It's the season of miracles," she says.
Pray for a big one.
[Pinkney was released on Dec. 24th, pending his appeal.]