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The first man in modern day America to be imprisoned for “predicting what God might do” was released, last week. However, Rev. Edward Pinkney's conviction on voter fraud charges still stands, despite the 13 errors committed during his trail. The appeals court ruled the errors were “harmless” - a bizarre excuse for depriving Benton Harbor, Michigan of its premier Black leader and minister.
Rev. Edward Pinkney: The Preacher Who Dared to Invoke God
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“In confrontations between a Black man and a racist state apparatus, the damage inflicted can never be fully, or even substantially, repaired.”
When Rev. Edward Pinkney was freed from prison, last week, some hailed the Michigan appeals court decision as a great victory. Only in a society in which racial insult and oppression is general – an everyday fact of life – would Rev. Pinkney’s release after spending nearly a year in eight different Michigan prisons, be considered a triumph of justice. Rather, it is only a partial rollback of a series of horrendous wrongs.
Rev. Pinkney became what the American Civil Liberties Union described as the first man in modern times to be imprisoned for “predicting what God might do.” (Actually, I thought that much of the job description of a minister consisted of predicting and anticipating God’s point of view.) Specifically, Pinkney wrote an article for a Chicago newspaper that predicted the judge who convicted him of voter fraud would be cursed by God. On top of that, Pinkney expressed the opinion that the judge was racist, dumb and corrupt.
For this exercise of his freedom of speech and religion, Rev. Pinkney’s probation on the voter fraud conviction was revoked. He now faced three to ten years hard time. So began his Odyssey from one Michigan prison to another, as state authorities tried to bury the Baptist minister deeper and deeper in their dungeons. A national legal and political campaign ultimately culminated in Pinkney’s release, but as is usually the case in confrontations between a Black man and a racist state apparatus, the damage inflicted can never be fully, or even substantially, repaired.
“Power always holds itself harmless while committing great crimes.”
The first item on the loss side of the ledger, is the fact that Pinkney’s home town, predominantly Black Benton Harbor, Michigan, has been deprived of this Black leader and preacher’s services for well over a year. The white power structure against which Rev. Pinkney tirelessly organized, succeeded in getting him off of the streets for a significant period of time.
The appeals court that freed Rev. Pinkney refused to order a new trail on the original voter fraud charges. The court acknowledged that Berrien County committed 13 separate errors in the case, but declared these errors were “harmless” and would not have altered the verdict.
“Harmless” errors. Power always holds itself harmless while committing great crimes.
One of the crimes Rev. Pinkney fought so hard to resist is gentrification. Benton Harbor’s lakeside location makes it a prime real estate attraction to the wealthy. When the leader of the anti-gentrification movement is forced to spend all his energy and time avoiding doing hard prison time, the gentrifiers win.
And so the net effect of Rev. Pinkney’s release last week is a mitigation of loss, rather than a victory. As the great Amilcar Cabral advised, Tell no lies and claim no easy victories.
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