Alex Constantine - July 28, 2008
“ ... It’s a KKK county, a group of organized crime, a criminal ring,” she said describing the Berrien Court system, county government and the control Whirlpool Corp. exercises over all. ... "
ACLU to represent Pinkney
By Teresa Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
BENTON HARBOR — Quoting Deuteronomy 28:14-22 to a Berrien County Judge will bring down the wrath of the judicial system.
Rev. Edward Pinkney learned that lesson the hard way. The Benton Harbor Assistant pastor has gone from the bowels of the Berrien County jail to Jackson prison to serve 3-10 years for quoting Deuteronomy to Berrien Chief Judge Alfred M. Butzbaugh.
“I didn’t feel threatened by Pinkney but his connection to God,” the judge said at the June 26 sentencing, according to attorneys and supporters.
Pinkney’s trial attorneys, Hugh “Buck” Davis and Elliott Hall, the first African American Vice President of Ford Motor Company, have filed a 115-page appeals brief raising 13 arguments why Pinkney’s conviction is invalid and unconstitutional, Davis said. Although the limit is 65-pages for an appeal, the Appeals Court agreed to accept the excess with the free speech and freedom of religion issues in the case.
“As far as I know he’s the first preacher in America to get put into prison for quoting the Bible,” Davis said on a radio show.
Now, the ACLU has formally taken up Pinkney’s case, a case likely to rise from current obscurity to national interest.
Pinkney’s conviction for quoting Scripture was an “execution,” said Marian Kramer, Welfare Rights Organization and organizer of a meeting at Hannah House in Detroit, July 25 to plan a strategy for freeing Pinckney.
Dorothy Pinkney, the Reverend’s wife, provided an update on the case which begins back in 2004.
“It’s a KKK county, a group of organized crime, a criminal ring,” she said describing the Berrien Court system, county government and the control Whirlpool Corp. exercises over all.
She reminded listeners that Rev. Pinkney had been fighting injustices of the Berrien court system for years. For example, every Tuesday, wearing a t-shirt listing each Berrien County judge under the headline of Berrien County’s “Most Wanted,” Rev. Pinkney organized a picket in front of the courthouse located on the St. Joseph side of the river.
SUCCESSFUL RECALL LED TO ARREST
Pinkney’s legal problems date to 2005 when BANCO (Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizations), which he heads, successfully recalled Benton Harbor City Commissioner Glen Yarbrough.
Yarbrough, part of a historic Black family with close ties to Berrien County government but with cloudy reputations in the community—including persistent reports of substance abuse, rumors of drug dealing to minors, and known physical attacks on others—survived the recall despite rejection by voters 297-246.
He was saved because county authorities challenged the results of the recall election, raided the Benton Harbor city clerk’s office and seized the voting records at the county clerk’s office. A month later Berrien Judge Paul Maloney threw out the election as tainted by fraud.
The city council fired city clerk Jean Nesbitt who was responsible for the election.
Because Nesbitt had communicated with Rev. Pinkney during the election about the election and because he had handled absentee ballots through her office, county authorities arrested him April 18, charging him with vote fraud.
Pinkney’s first trial on voter fraud charges March 2006 was declared a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.
A year later, March 2007, Berrien County retried Pinckeny on the same three felony charges of improper possession of absentee ballots, one felony count of influencing voters while they were voting and a misdemeanor charge of influencing voters with money.
An all white jury—Benton Harbor is 93 percent Black, Berrien County, 20 percent—found him guilty on all counts.
The local newpaper, the Herald-Palladium said, “justice was served” and concluded, “and now he’ll pay for it.”
Two months later, May 15, Judge Butzbaugh sentenced Pinkney to one year in jail as part of a five-year probation, but suspended the actual jail time, ordering him to stay home, on a tether and observe certain conditions of probation. He was required to refrain from political campaigning, to avoid threatening and intimating behavior, to not use a cell phone and to not associate with any person known to have a criminal conviction.
JAILED FOR CALLING JUDGE RACIST
Pinkney remained on house arrest until Dec. 21, 2007, when Butzbaugh issued a warrant for his arrest. A sentence that appeared in an article in the November 2007 issue of The People’s Tribune, a Chicago-based monthly infuriated the judge.
“We must fight for justice for all any time you have a judge like Alfred Butzbaugh, who is a racist,” Pinkney wrote and added that he had been denied due process “by the dumb judge and prosecutor....I support the constitution of the United States and the State of Michigan; we are still waiting on this racist corrupt judge to do the same.”
Butzbaugh ruled the writing violated the terms of the probation and contained threats not protected by the constitution. He ordered Pinkney serve the jail term that had been held in abeyance for almost a year.
From Berrien County jail, Pinkney waged a new campaign for justice revealing the inhumane conditions of the jail. Outraged at the conditions the inmates—overwhelmingly Black and from Benton Harbor—had to endure in the jail, Pinkney turned to scripture and wrote a letter to the judge quoting Deuteronomy 28:14-22. The passage recites the evils God will measure out to those in high places and who have great responsibility if they mistreat the people they are chosen to serve.
Butzbaugh recused himself from the June hearing on Pinkney’s parole violations saying he and his family were the target of Pinkney’s biblical threats and the case was heard by former Prosecutor Dennis Wiley.
Wiley is known for his own racism in Benton Harbor.
The night 16-year old African American Eric McGinnis disappeared in all-white St. Joseph over a decade ago only to be pulled from the river days later, Wiley was one of the three men—all Berrien County officials—to last see McGinnis alive. The three men said they watched the youth run down a street as they entered a bar on Main Street in St. Joseph.
For Pinkney, Wiley ruled the parole violation did occur and imposed a prison sentence from three to 10 years since Pinkney two prior felony convictions over a decade ago.
NEXT WEEK: Whirlpool Corp.’s beach front land grab that is the basis of Rev. Edward Pinkney’s legal issues.
Detroit Pastor, Union Theological Seminary graduate and Biblical scholar Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellerman testifies to Biblical meaning of Deuteronomy 28.
“But if you do not hearken to the voice of the LORD, your God, and are not careful to observe all his commandments which I enjoin on you today, all these curses shall come upon you and overwhelm you:
“May you be cursed in the city, and cursed in the country!
“Cursed be your grain bin and your kneading bowl!
“Cursed be the fruit of your womb, the produce of your soil and the offspring of your livestock, the issue of your herds and the young of your flocks!
“May you be cursed in your coming in, and cursed in your going out!
“The LORD will put a curse on you, defeat and frustration in every enterprise you undertake, until you are speedily destroyed and perish for the evil you have done in forsaking me.
The LORD will bring a pestilence upon you that will persist until he has exterminated you from the land you are entering to occupy.
The LORD will strike you with wasting and fever, with scorching, fiery drought, with blight and searing wind, that will plague you until you perish.