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They Got The Wrong Guy

By       Message Jayne Lyn Stahl       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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No, it's not Alberto Gonzales, not Karl Rove, but a widely respected, and highly principled community leader, in a small town in western Michigan, the Reverend Edward Pinkney who was recently tried, and convicted of election "irregularities," or voter fraud, and who now finds himself under house arrest, facing up to twenty years in prison when he is sentenced on May 14th.

Pinkney, an African-American preacher, was acquitted in his first trial, but forced to stand trial again, last month, as those who prosecuted him contend that he got off because there were too many blacks on the jury, two. They prevailed, and Rev. Pinkney stood trial a second time, only this time all the jurors were white, and  he was convicted.
The alleged voting improprieties pertain to the recall election of Benton Harbor's powerful commissioner, Glen Yarbrough, a name that is synonymous with large scale corporate development, and construction of 500 acres of a marina residential golf course, and complex. Rev. Pinkney, on the other hand, is renowned for his efforts on behalf of the environment, improved education, and access to affordable health care.

The charges for which this preacher, and community leader, who has been active in trying to improve living conditions, employment, housing, and education in his hometown of Benton Harbor, a city of fewer than 15,000 residents, which is more than 90% black and largely impoverished, has been convicted are strictly little league iwhen compared with this administration's attempts at polling place purge, and the systematic disenfranchisement of thousands of minority, indigent, and largely Democratic, voters as disclosed by former Justice Department lawyers. As you know, several of those fired U.S. attorneys were terminated for refusing to participate in voter fraud cases, like that of Rev. Pinkney's, in key Republican strongholds, Michigan being among them. 

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Further, departmental records indicate that, over the past six years, Bush, Cheney and Co. have aggressively tried to keep people from voting in "key battleground states in ways that favor Republican political candidates." (Baltimore Sun)  Indeed, administration efforts to claim "widespread election fraud" despite strong evidence that little, if any, national voter fraud existed, according to its own federal panel (New York Times) speaks to its urgent need to establish an infrastructure, i.e. federal voter identification laws whereby those who are indigent, socio-economically and racially segregated, those who traditionally have voted for liberal Democrats, may be kept from voting.

While an administration spokesperson insists that every effort has been made to protect and preserve voter integrity, as guaranteed by the 1965 Voter Authorization Bill, reauthorized last fall, the president's first attorney-general, John Ashcroft, with his "Ballot Access and Voter Integrity initiative," in 2001, paved the way for the Civil Rights Division to pursue more virile prosecution of alleged voter fraud cases. And, no surprise, the focus of the division's energies were those states where Republicans led by only a narrow margin: Florida, Ohio, and Michigan among them.   

So, taken in context then, it should come as no surprise that an all-white jury found a prominent African-American minister, one beloved by his community, guilty of such "irregularities" as "handling" an absentee ballot, for which he may be sentenced to five years in prison, and allegedly paying people $5,00 to vote in a 2005 election.(BANCO)  In fact, Rev . Pinkney supporters contend that all he did was ask a local woman to recruit people to hand out leaflets in return for five bucks, which is perfectly legal. Interestingly, that same year, 2005, a young man claimed that Mr. Yarborough himself paid him $10.00 to accuse Pinkney of giving him $5.00 to vote. Somebody wants to see Rev. Pinkney behind bars, and it's not likely to be those disenfranchised, unemployed, undereducated, and uninsured in this small midwest community who he so honorably has served.

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Among the most fascinating elements of this case is how an administration who denied voter fraud in 2000, and then again in 2004, has now redacted the original report of a federal panel which was commissioned to do research into election improprieties to argue that voter fraud is rampant. I guess when you lose an election bigtime, as the Republicans did in the midterm election, it's okay to cry foul even when those one contracts, and pays, to investigate fraud insist that there was no fraud. 
Clearly, with a growing demographic that is largely Democratic, what better way to quell dissent, and ensure supremacy than to enact legislation requiring voter identification. Make no mistake, this legislation targets poor minorities, many of whom vote for those who offer them a bigger slice of a pie that increasingly belongs only to big business, and big bucks. And, were it up to the Bush administration, we'd not only have guest workers, but guest voters, too.

Consider the irony, and  egregious injustice of holding a man under house arrest, as well as the absurdity of having him face as many as twenty years in prison on such charges as improperly touching an absentee ballot.   This is an effront to every thinking man and woman, as well as irrefutable evidence that there is not merely a monied class, but a ruling class in America.

Is this why our esteemed forefathers boarded the Mayflower to escape religious intolerance, economic exclusion , class rigidity, and divine right of kings to have their elections stolen by people who want to enact voter ID laws in order to fix the vote, preserve their job security, and silence the growing discontent of the impoverished, and minorities?

When the Bush administration, in the past, has flagrantly disqualifed new voting registrants whose I.D. didn't match what was in the computer database, thereby resulting in turning away "tens of thousands" of eligible voters, (BANCO)  how can any rational person opt to sentence Rev. Pinkney to spend even one night in prison for anything he was convicted for having done?

They got the wrong guy. If anyone should face sentencing for voter fraud, it's Karl Rove and his boss. But, in this land of the free, home of the brave, we're not going to see Rove, Gonzales, Bush, Cheney, or any other empire rogue rat, stand trial for election "irregularities."   Instead, on May 14th, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a judge will have the awesome duty of considering whether or not to sentence a courageous community leader to four consecutive five year terms, a black man convicted by an all-white jury, for little more than working to ensure inclusion in a process that has become increasingly exclusive, the right to vote, in America, which, if some have their way, will soon be a matter of privilege.   One can only hope that the judge will make the only sane decision.

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Forcing Rev. Pinkney to serve even five minutes behind bars would not merely be an insult to those who founded this great nation, it would be an unparalleled act of cowardice, and proof that class, not character, race not reason has won the day.


 

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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.

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