Stand up for justice in Benton Harbor, Michigan, and everywhere. A democratic election was stolen and an innocent man falsely prosecuted. Pledge your support for fair treatment for Rev. Edward Pinkney, a courageous community leader, and the community movement he has been leading for many years.
We support the Reverend Edward Pinkney, a courageous Michigan civil rights leader wrongfully convicted of election misconduct in Benton Harbor.
In Benton Harbor, Michigan, residents won a recall vote of a city commissioner through a successful campaign led by BANCO (Black Autonomy Network Community Organization). Then, in an attempt to circumvent the will of the people, the vote was overturned by a local judge. In a further outrage, community leader Rev. Pinkney of BANCO was arrested on charges of alleged improper possession of absentee votes and improper influence of voters. Rev. Pinkney’s second trial in March 2007 before a jury with no minority representation resulted in convictions on all charges (the first trial ended in a hung jury on all charges).
The treatment Rev. Pinkney has received at the hands of the criminal justice system in Benton Harbor raises serious questions about human rights and democracy. Many observers believe he was falsely accused in order to circumvent the recall, that witnesses were coerced, and that he did not receive a fair trial. It was highly doubtful from the beginning that he could receive fair treatment in the same county where for years he has been an outspoken critic of the local political leaders, police, judges, and prosecutors and an advocate of poor and minority defendants, yet the request for a different venue was denied.
Those in authority should not be able to disenfranchise voters and squash dissent in Benton Harbor, or anywhere. Regardless of whether you agree with him, Rev. Pinkney is a nationally known defender of the rights of the community and critic of the criminal justice system. We need his voice and he deserves his freedom. The City of Benton Harbor has some of the most dismal economic, employment, and crime statistics in the nation. The trial outcome for Rev. Pinkney has dealt a devastating blow to the community. We join the citizens of Benton Harbor in wanting freedom for Reverend Pinkney.
We support the following:
* Defer the start of any sentence for Rev. Pinkney until all of his appeals have been decided. Rev. Pinkney is a respected community leader who has served the citizens of Benton Harbor well for many years. Rev. Pinkney is not a danger to the public, nor a flight risk. He should be able to continue to serve his community until his appeals have been decided.
* Do not sentence Rev. Pinkney prior to the outcome of pending state legislation which would reduce the maximum sentence for the felony charges.
* Rev. Pinkney passed a polygraph test, administered by an impartial expert on April 13, on all the issues on which he was convicted. His offer to repeat the test was refused by the prosecutor. An innocent man should not be sentenced and imprisoned.
* Rev. Pinkney did not receive his constitutional right to a public trial. After the trial began, security was tightened to the point where people were not allowed to enter the courtroom unless they were present before it began. The television monitor where court observers were sent to watch jury selection did not work properly.
* Rev. Pinkney did not receive his constitutional right to a jury of his peers. He was convicted by an all-white jury after the judge rejected a jury challenge that pointed out the unconstitutional pattern of systematic exclusion and under-representation of black jurors in the Berrien County court system. We support reconsideration of this issue, since Rev. Pinkney did not receive a fair hearing on this fundamental right.
We support a fair outcome for Rev. Pinkney and for the citizens of Benton Harbor. We include community supporters, church members, members of progressive organizations, progressive media, and interested citizens. We are united by one desire--to show support for a man who has fought for the community and who has been falsely prosecuted in reprisal for his efforts.
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