When the ACLU of Michigan People Power Tour packs its virtual bags and rolls into Berrien County for an online event this Tuesday, voting rights and reforming the criminal legal system are expected to be high on the list of issues discussed in this Lake Michigan shoreline community.
Part of the discussion will include our work with the Rev. Edward Pinkney, who has firsthand experience in both arenas.
In 2014, after helping coordinate a campaign to recall Benton Harbor's then-mayor, Rev. Pinkney, who is Black, was tried and convicted of election fraud by an all-white jury that was allowed to hear irrelevant and inflammatory evidence of Rev. Pinkney’s political activities. Sentenced to serve 30 months to 10 years in prison, he was released after spending 30 months locked up. He considered himself to be a political prisoner, incarcerated because of his attempts to take on the county’s white power structure. After his release, the Michigan Supreme Court, in 2018, unanimously overturned the conviction, concluding, among other things, Rev. Pinkney was convicted of violating a law that did not exist.
Clearly, the fight for racial and social justice in Berrien County, where Benton Harbor is located, is far from over. That is why efforts to reduce mass incarceration and eliminate racial disparities in the criminal legal system – the goals of the ACLU of Michigan’s Smart Justice campaign – will be part of the virtual People Power Tour event. The establishment of civilian oversight of law enforcement, in particular, is likely to be explored.
We realize that resident engagement is especially critical in an election year. With less than 30 days until the Nov. 3 election, we will share the work we are doing to ensure historically disenfranchised communities can vote, and urge people to take advantage of early voting, which they can do from now until Nov. 2.
What other issues will rise to the top?
I cannot tell you that now with certainty because the People Power Tour doesn’t come to town with a pre-determined list of specific problems to address. Instead, our efforts are first centered on fostering discussion and hearing from community members about what civil rights and liberties issues they consider to be the most pressing.
Keeping the focus community-centered – both in terms of identifying problems and then devising ways to address them through collaboration – is the tour’s guiding light.
You can register and find details for the event here.