There is a particular evil, among others, going on the State of Michigan. During the election hoopla, the debates, the speeches, and attention focused on Michigan’s Black voters, I was appalled that no one took the opportunity to point out this quiet yet outrageous situation. No one stepped to the microphone or held a press conference or asked a question or held up a sign about Edward Pinkney.
Who is Ed Pinkney? He is a 68-year-old minister from Benton Harbor, Mich., former president of the local NAACP, and most of all, an unwavering activist who fights against social and economic injustice. Pinkney now sits in an isolation cell at the infamous Marquette Branch Prison, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, nearly 500 miles from his hometown, his wife, Dorothy, and his supporters, in an “out of sight, out of mind” attempt by the state to make Brother Pinkney disappear from the public stage and from public discourse.
What we saw during the Michigan primary was an indication that their strategy is working. Black folks and other Pinkney supporters, to my knowledge, made no real attempt to get the candidates to issue statements of support for Pinkney; the injustices perpetrated against him were not cited in the debates or in the press conferences.
Now as we watch the rollout of a revived relationship with Cuba, and folks are talking about political prisoners on that island, why is there nothing mentioned about the political prisoners in this country, especially Edward Pinkney, who is suffering a penalty far beyond the level of crime he is accused of committing. President Obama spoke to Raoul Castro about human rights and political prisoners while nothing was said or done about Pinkney. Obama went to a prison in Colorado and issued pardons for prisoners. He also had a high-profile ceremony at the White House last week, but left Pinkney off his list of those who should be freed.
In Pinkney’s own words: “A heavy and cruel hand has been laid upon me. On Oct. 6, 2015, I was transferred back to Marquette Branch Prison, a two-day ride on the bus, shackled, mistreated and intimidated. I was forced to strip on five different occasions. I am forced into overcrowding, inadequate exercise, lack of clean clothing and inadequate medical care which violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. I estimate over 75 percent of the prisoners in Marquette have mental problems.”
His history of confrontation with the justice system in Michigan notwithstanding, in this particular case, the punishment does not fit the alleged crime. An all-White jury convicted him of forgery for changing dates next to signatures on a petition drive for a recall drive.
Yes, he has been a thorn in the side of the establishment and local judges in Benton Harbor. Pinkney’s willingness to fight for civil rights should not be used as an excuse for retribution against him by the courts. According to our Constitution, he must be treated fairly and he must not be subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment.” The crime he allegedly committed does not rise to the level of being held in prison without bond during his appeal. By the time his appeal comes around, if he is found not guilty, he will have served prison time for a crime he did not commit.
Among the 248 prisoners ordered released by President Obama, there are some I am sure who committed crimes far more serious than Pinkney is accused of, yet he was not on the POTUS’ list for pardon, clemency, or consideration of any kind. Why not? Well, it could be due to a lack of support and advocacy on Pinkney’s behalf by folks and organizations in Benton Harbor, especially the NAACP (but I am not surprised by its lack of involvement), as well as those who were so excited about the presidential candidates being in their state but forgot to demand justice for Edward Pinkney.
The Congressional Representatives from Pinkney’s district and beyond should be swamped with letters, emails, and phone calls from constituents demanding they focus on this case and get this man out of prison pending his appeal. Representatives should contact President Obama and ask Attorney General Loretta Lynch to look into the case as well. And finally, the president himself should be contacted with demands for Pinkney’s release, if not complete clemency. Remember what George Bush did for Scooter Libby? Why doesn’t Obama exercise the same power for our people?
As Pinkney sits in that remote prison, who knows in what physical and mental condition, if something happens to him and, God forbid, if he dies there, Black folks will march, yell and scream, and call for justice for Brother Pinkney. That’s not the time to do it; the right time is now, while he is alive and has a reasonable portion of health. Don’t sit this one out folks. Our alarm clock went off some time ago; we just keep on hitting the snooze button.
Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He can be reached through his website, blackonomics.com. He is the author of Black Dollars Matter: Teach Your Dollars How to Make More Sense, which is available through his website; professionalpublishinghouse.com and Amazon Kindle eBooks.