Constitutional rights violations alleged in case of Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor
GRAND RAPIDS—The trial of Rev. Edward Pinkney, 66, of Benton Harbor violated his constitutional rights according to a motion filed with the Michigan Court of Appeals. Supporters of Pinkney—including ACLU of Michigan who filed an amicus curiae brief backing the motion—are calling for his immediate release on bond pending appeal.
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. Currently in Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, he maintains his innocence and faces 30 to 120 months in prison. According to the ACLU brief, his appeal is “almost certain” to lead to the reversal of the conviction. Pinkney has already spent over seven months in prison since his sentencing last December. Visitors from around the state attempt to monitor his health and safety.
“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. According to Davis, “Given the thousands of irregularities in election petitions in Michigan every year, it’s clear that this is political prosecution in retaliation for successful community and electoral organizing. They like it until it looks like you are going to win. Two-and-a-half to ten years? He’s a political prisoner.”
In just one recent example, 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.
David Sole, 313-680-5508
Joe Peery, 312-788-0380