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In Michigan, Petitioning Against The Government Lands You a Prison Sentence

Reverend Edward Pinkney continues to serve a prison sentence for organizing against the first Emergency Manager in Flint.

Reverend Edward Pinkney, with Associate Pastor Adrienne Lawton, of CHAM and his wife, Dorothy. (Photo: Silicon Valley Debug)

As all eyes are on Michigan’s poisoned water crisis, Reverend Edward Pinkney continues to servea prison sentence for effectively organizing against the first Emergency Manager put into place in the entire country in Benton Harbor, Michigan. There, the Emergecy Manager legally suspended thelocal city government and appointed himself supreme ruler of the city. Pinkney visited San Jose in 2011 warning us about the dangerous experience just beginning then and now has created the humanitarian disaster in Flint. We need to do everything inour power to free Reverend Pinkney so he can continue to speak out against this draconian law.

Reverend Edward Pinkney, with Associate Pastor Adrienne Lawton, of CHAM and his wife, Dorothy. (Photo: Silicon Valley Debug)Reverend Edward Pinkney, with Associate Pastor Adrienne Lawton, of CHAM and his wife, Dorothy. (Photo: Silicon Valley Debug)

No one has protested longer and more loudly against the Emergency Manager law in Michingan – that allowsthe state of Michigan to appoint individuals to take control of cities and school districts – than a friend of our ministry, Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Michigan. The law allows the Governor of Michigan to suspend democracy wherever he sees fit, and so far he has chosen to do so in the state’s poorest, most working class cities like Benton Harbor, Detroit, and Flint. And for the crime of “practicing democracy” in Michigan, Rev. Pinkney is now serving a 2 ½ to 10-year sentence in the state penitentiary.

By now, the entire world has heard how Emergency Managers in Flint, Michigan poisoned the entire city by diverting polluted and corrosive river water into its drinking supply. Trying to save a few dollars for their corporate sponsors, the Emergency Managers switched over the water without even adding the recommended anti-corrosive treatment. As a result, it leached lead out of the city’s pipes and into its tap water for almost two years, and now thousands of residents have suffered permanent, dangerously elevated lead levels in their bloodstreams.

This did not happen without protest. Thousands of Michigan residents were raising their voices against theEmergency Managers for almost five years. The people of Flint have been marching and speaking out ever since the water switch was made back in 2014. However, the Emergency Manager system effectively stripped them of their right to vote and placed them under the rule of a corporate dictator who shut his ears to their plea.

Rev. Pinkney and his wife Dorothy spoke in San Jose when we hosted them at Silicon Valley De-Bug inSeptember 2011. “Beware the Emergency Manager,” were the very first words out of his mouth, as he described the experiences of Benton Harbor; the first city in America to experience the pain and indignity of having its democracy suppressed by the notorious Emergency Manager law.

In Benton Harbor, the Emergency Manager declared all acts by the elected Mayor and City Council null and void. “The Mayor’s desk was even moved to storage in the basement,” said Rev. Pinkney. “The City Council was allowed to meet, but with only two agenda items allowed: Call to Order, and Adjourn. When the City Council tried to declare September 17 ‘Constitution Day’ the Emergency Manager cancelled the declaration and refused to allow a celebration of the US Constitution.”

Rev. Pinkney’s protests in Benton Harbor were effective, and at long last the Emergency Manager there was removed and a new Mayor elected. Unfortunately this Mayor turned out to be closely allied with the Whirlpool Corporation, whose practices have impoverished the community over several decades. As a result of automation and offshoring, Benton Harbor now has a high unemployment rate and nearly half of the residents live below the poverty line, nearly 90% of the population is African American.

In late 2013 and early 2014, Rev. Pinkney led a petition campaign to recall the Mayor, and in February 2014 was arrested after a violent SWAT Team raid on his house. Police officials apparently found five dates that were changed out of the hundreds of signatures submitted on the recall petitions. Rev. Pinkney was charged with five felonies. In November, after a trial before an all-white jury, he was unjustly convicted and sentenced to 2 ½ to 10 years in prison.

The jury reached its verdict without any evidence that Pinkney committed any crime at all. Many witnesses who gathered petition signatures testified that some signers themselves changed the dates next to their own names. Three witnesses testified that they saw someone other than Pinkney changing dates on the petitions after signatures were gathered. Mark Goff, a forensic document examiner with the Michigan State Police, testified that he could not determine when the changes were made, by whom, or whether they were changed by the signers themselves. No witness testimony or physical evidence supported the charges that Pinkney changed any dates, and Rev. Pinkney has emphatically denied all the charges.

“They are saying they don’t need evidence to send someone to prison,” said Rev. Pinkney. “Now everybody inBenton Harbor is in jeopardy. We have to say enough is enough. Here, Whirlpool controls not only Benton Harbor and the residents, but also the court system itself. They will do anything to crush you if you stand up to them. That’s why it’s so important to fight this.”

Rev. Pinkney is like the watchman in the Book of Ezekiel. When the watchman sees wickedness, and does not sound a warning or speak out to stop an evil from taking place, then the wicked person will face theconsequences of his or her actions, and the watchman will be held accountable. But if the watchman warns thewicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will face theconsequences, but the watchman will be saved.

Rev. Pinkney fulfilled his duty by sounding the warning early and often about Michigan’s Emergency Managers. Perhaps if he had not been imprisoned, he could have prevented the disaster in Flint before so many were poisoned. All of his warnings about Emergency Managers were vindicated, and the Lord is watching over him. But now it is up to us to help get him out of prison.

Since he was sentenced over a year ago, Rev. Pinkney has been in three different prisons. Currently he is inMarquette Branch Prison, in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, 500 miles from his home and his wife, Dorothy. He has had his phone privileges taken away and at times been placed in solitary confinement. These are attempts to cut him off from his family and the support that is growing for him both nationally and internationally.

He has an appeal in the court system, but more public pressure is necessary. It is up to us to speak out againstthe evil being done to Rev. Pinkney – or else we ourselves will be held accountable. The future of democracyin Michigan and all across America is at stake.

We should not think it could not happen to us, or happen here. The miserable treatment of the homeless in Silicon Valley is exactly similar to the evils done to the people of Flint and Benton Harbor, by the same kind of corporations and for the same reasons. Those that the system has no use for, it discards and sacrifices withthe most shocking and callous disregard for the value of human life. It is time for all of us to say with Rev. Pinkney: Enough is enough!

More info on the campaign to free Rev. Pinkney

Write Rev. Pinkney at the following address: Rev. Edward Pinkney # 294671, Marquette Branch Prison, 1960 US Hwy 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.

Publicize this case. Write letters of support for Rev. Pinkney to BANCO (Black Autonomous Network of Community Organizations) at [email protected].

Donations for legal defense may be sent to BANCO, 1940 Union Street, Benton Harbor, MI 49022.

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