Dear Peace People,
The police brutality/racial profiling situation in Benton Harbor has become so severe that the word "catastrophic" may not be too strong to describe it. One small example of what's going on: cops now take people they pick up straight to jail rather than bothering with stopping at the police station. The following is something I wrote up after going to a Community Forum there. If anyone reads this and has ideas for resources, I would be thrilled, delighted, and joyously happy to hear from you.
(I have a video tape of the Forum)
Benton Harbor, A City Under Seige
Benton Harbor is a poor, mostly African American city that is "being run like a plantation by the white power structure", as my activist friend said. The whites are mostly from the "twin" city of St. Joseph. An important book was written about the inequality of these two cities five or so years ago. 70% of B.Harbor citizens live in poverty. A Kalamazoo College political science prof. told me he read it was the poorest community in America.
Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor (ph: 269-925-0001 - will take calls anytime from anybody!) is a dynamic African American man who told me on the phone last week that he's on a mission. He's almost single-handedly trying to fight the power in BH. He goes to the court house EVERY weekday, and pickets every Tuesday. He held a community forum on March 15 which I attended and listened to horror stories for 3 hours of people being framed and imprisoned for life, people being treated like dirt in the workplace - I had tears in my eyes for 3 hours and left when I couldn't take it anymore. It's hard to write about what I heard that day.
Rev. Pinkney told me the following:
At the Community Forum, each time Rev. P came to the mic to introduce the next speaker he said some variation of this:
"So, you think it won't happen to you. You think because you have a Bachelor's degree or maybe a Master's that it won't happen to you. You think that because you've saved a lot of money it won't happen to you. Well, you're fooling yourself. It could happen to any of us anytime."
Meaning, get picked up by the police. After hearing that over and over I understood why, on a beautiful warm Saturday afternoon, Benton Harbor's streets and sidewalks were totally empty. Residents are terrified of being picked up and railroaded through the "justice system," of being wrongfully convicted, and of doing a long prison term.
Rev. Pinckney told me he needs:
- An FBI report states that B.Harbor men aged 12-28 are fourteen times more likely to be killed by police than the nat'l. average.
- Recently the police have started taking the boys/men/women/girls they pick up directly to jail, bypassing the police station altogether.
- Police used to run the drug ring in the area and would plant drugs in cars to get people convicted, therefore qualifying BH for more Federal money. (the money goes to towns with serious drug problems.)
- Police know the judges and lawyers are all bad, so they can do whatever they wish.
- Judges in BH decide who the public defenders will be - this is not done anywhere else. It causes the defenders to keep judges happy so they can continue to get their $72,000 to $420,000 salaries!!
- Rev. Pinkney invited former state Atty. General, now Gov., Jennifer Granholm to BH a couple years ago. She vowed she'd help him. Instead, she
sabotaged a situation he was involved in. There is no one at the state level who will oversee BH, help Rev. Pinkney, act as watch dog, etc. No one.
- The jail now has over 500 inmates. The legal limit is 373. 80% are black. The bonds are higher for blacks.
- Blacks always get the maximum sentence, whites always get minimum.
- Not one case has been dropped because money from court costs and fines
is what the power structure is after.
- These figures are not clear to me, but I'll include them anyways: 60% of the people who go through the judicial system are innocent - they get probation. 20% that are sent to jail are innocent. 20% are guilty.
He can be called anytime at 269-925-0001. He is in need of support the way a dying, starving man is in need of food and water. And that's not an exaggeration.
Thank you for any consideration you can give this matter -
- $16,000 to bring in a Restorative Justice program
- money for lawyers to get to work on the currently unjustly imprisoned people and other projects
- a grant writer.
- a website
- a bail bonds program