Berrien County Michigan: Social Contrasts and Court Bias

The Berrien Co. Community Development Dept. drafted an August 2008 document that describes Benton Harbor’s 2000 Census Bureau demographics (among other things). It reports that Benton Harbor, MI, has a population of 10,641 (based on 2006 estimates); a median family income of $19,250; a total of 28% of residents without a high school diploma; and a young population where 49.2% of its people are under 25 years of age.

What it didn’t report is that Benton Harbor is also 92.4% African American, and it’s one of eight cities in Michigan with the highest poverty rates (at 42.6%, according to the Census Bureau). Other cities include Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Muskegon Heights, Pontiac, Flint, and Saginaw.

Among other facts, Benton Harbor is also home to the community-scorned Whirlpool World Headquarters; and is divided by the St. Joseph River from one of the state’s wealthiest cities, St. Joseph. In contrast, the Census Bureau median family income in this city is $51,328 and it’s 90.3% white. Of the 8,789 residents, 6.6% live below the poverty line. One website even described St. Joseph this way:

“You could say that the city is a good place if you’re looking to marry or date a rich person, with its relatively large population of well-paid single people.”

It’s these dynamics–harmless on paper but socioeconomically volatile in reality–that caused the June 2003 riot in Benton Harbor. These factors also contributed to the August 2008 prison sentencing of BANCO spokesman, Rev. Pinkney, for quoting the Bible against the community’s oppressors.

Today is Rev. Edward Pinkney’s 60th birthday. What he needs–what Benton Harbor needs–most is for other activists and people who advocate for their communities to speak up on behalf of him and other Benton Harbor residents! At every opportunity he had, Rev. Pinkney spoke about his concerns for the city’s youth and the lack of jobs and educational opportunities to help them get out of poverty.

Rev. Pinkney has continued to speak from behind bars at Ojibway Correctional Facility, in Marinesco, MI–nearly 500 miles and 9 hours from his wife and friends–a decision by the courts and state to further foment the injustice. Rev. Pinkney is also running as a Green Party candidate for the 6th Congressional District in Michigan. The Associated Press recently interviewed him from prison and the story has been picked up by mainstream media.

Rev. Pinkney’s attorneys are calling for more public support toward the ACLU appeal case. Please sign the online petition and write a clemency letter of support for Rev. Pinkney.

Image from: Michigan Dept of Corrections. Benton Harbor is in Berrien County near the Indiana and Illinois borders.

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