The following statement was released by the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers (BANCO) in Benton Harbor following the conviction of its leader, Reverend Edward Pinkney. According to BANCO, the voter fraud charges against Pinkney are false and are a political move by Benton Harbor’s elite after Pinkney and BANCO ran a successful campaign to recall a City Commissioner in order to prevent the sale of land to Whirlpool. Whirlpool was attempting to gentrify Benton Harbor and uproot the predominately poor and black residents. The statement is printed below:
To the disbelief of supporters, Rev. Edward Pinkney — a courageous community leader in Benton Harbor who has dedicated his life to the defense of the poor — was found guilty of all 5 charges on March 21.
He faces twenty years in prison. A white Judge, prosecutor, and jury convicted Rev. Pinkney. The jury deliberations in this travesty of justice lasted less than seven hours. The charges are:
1 – Influencing voters with money
2 – Influencing voters while voting
3 – Possession of Danielle William’s absentee ballot
4 – Possession of Rosie Miles’s absentee ballot
5 – Possession of LaToya William’s absentee ballot
This conviction was made possible by a biased jury — and the corrupt Judge, courts, police, and prosecution who were out to get Rev. Pinkney. Berrien County has a long history of ‘doing what it wants’ and what it wants is what Whirlpool wants. The court system is set up to keep the corruption and power structure in place and the people down.
Prior to the trial, challenges were made to the jury selection process which disproportionately eliminates Blacks from the jury pool, but the Judge denied the motion. As a result, the prosecution’s first victory came when an all-white, middle-class jury was selected.
There were many other examples of ‘how things are done in Berrien County.’ The Judge over-ruled most defense objections, but allowed the prosecution’s. Most prosecution witnesses were poor young women who undoubtedly feared a vicious police department which is known to beat and arrest the Benton Harbor poor at will even though they were promised immunity. The conviction was based largely on the testimony of one witness who contradicted herself on the stand. Defense lawyers said they ‘wouldn’t put a dog in a pound on her testimony.’
Glenn Yarbrough, the corrupt County Commissioner who was ousted in the contested recall election took the stand but the Judge refused to allow certain testimony necessary for the defense’s case. When jurists asked why the courtroom doors were locked. The Judge lied, telling jurists that this was standard procedure. In fact, the doors had not been locked in the previous trial nor were any other courtroom doors locked in the Berrien County courthouse. They were locked to keep people from seeing what was going on. During the closing arguments of the defense, the judge allowed the prosecution to object to the defense’s conclusions further tainting the jury’s perceptions.
The system of justice is broken in Berrien County. We must gather our forces together and fight forward. This struggle is about whether we’re going to have democracy or fascism and should be of concern to every American. Rev. Pinkney is standing strong and is planning his appeal. He will also be filing civil law suits against several witnesses and the jury. Money and support will be urgently needed.
Legal fee donations to:
1940 Union St.
Benton Harbor, MI 49022