In March of this year, Governor Rick Snyder signed a law granting expanded powers to emergency managers to take control of city governments and school districts in financial distress.Weeks later, Benton Harbor, a small, predominantly African-American city in Southwest Michigan, was the first city to be taken over under the new law. In April, at the Benton Harbor City Commission’s first meeting after appointment of Emergency Financial Manager Joe Harris, the terms were laid out starkly: Elected city officials are powerless except to call meetings to order, adjourn them, and approve meeting minutes. The Emergency Financial Manager, meanwhile, is empowered to remove elected officials from office at will, disburse all government funding without oversight, sell off government property, and modify or terminate any contract. With this pronouncement, the much-vaunted American ideal of representative democracy was declared null and void in Benton Harbor.
The story attracted national attention, including coverage on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show. The following week, on April 27, 200 people marched through the streets of Benton Harbor demanding repeal of the Emergency Financial Manager law and a restoration of demcratic rights to Benton Harbor’s citizens.
2 months later, on June 18, the people of Benton Harbor came out in the streets again to commemorate 8 years of government repression and popular resistance. June 16 marked the 8 year anniversary of the Benton Harbor uprising of 2003, in which the US Army was brought in to repress a community outraged by the killing of a youngBlack man, Terrance Shurn, in a police chase. The Terrance “T-Shirt” Shurn Memorial Rally featured live music by several local musicians and speeches by activists including Fred Hampton, Jr., son of the slain Black Panther leader and chairman of the Prisoners of Conscience Committee.
The rally was emceed by Rev. Edward Pinkney, who also shared a poem he wrote in honor of Shurn and the people of Benton Harbor. For over a decade, Rev. Pinkney has been a tireless fighter for social and economic justice in Benton Harbor. In 1999, he founded the Black Autonomy Network Community Organization (BANCO), a grassroots community organization that monitored the corrupt political and judicial system in Berrien County and advocated for the oppressed.
A month after the uprising of 2003, Rev. Pinkney and BANCO led a nonviolent march of over 200 citizens demanding justice and an end to police brutality in Benton Harbor. In 2005, BANCO organized a recall election against City Commissioner Glenn Yarbrough, who had acted as a mouthpiece for the interests of the Whirlpool Corporation headquartered in the affluent neighboring town of St. Joseph. After the recall election succeeded by a vote of 297 to 246, the local powers that be promptly overturned the people’s will claiming electoral fraud. Rev. Pinkney was arrested and promptly charged with four felony counts and one misdemeanor; after the first trial resulted in a hung jury, Rev. Pinkney was retried in 2007 and convicted by an all white jury (Benton Harbor’s population is 94% Black).
The corporate assault on the people of Benton Harbor continued while Rev. Pinkney was shuffled from one prison to another throughout Michigan. Real estate company Cornerstone Alliance, a subsidiary of Whirlpool, used its influence to annex Benton Harbor land to turn into a playground for the wealthy. Meanwhile, fear of reprisal kept most citizens of Benton Harbor silent. Cornerstone and Whirlpool stirred Benton Harbor’s citizens to action again when a plan was announced to steal Jean Klock Park and use the land to build a private golf course and country club. Jean Klock Park had special significance for the people of Benton Harbor; in 1917 John and Carrie Klock willed the lakeside park to the people of Benton Harbor, writing ““It is our wish that the lakefront always be preserved in its natural state and be a playground for the children and a bathing beach for all the people.” In 2010, the opening of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Club was met with a vocal protest by over 100 chanting “Jack Nicklaus go home!” and “Jean Klock Park was deeded to the people!”
The passage of the Emergency Financial Manager law dealt one more harsh blow to the people of Benton Harbor. But with this defeat are planted the seeds of a new revolt – Benton Harbor’s citizens are no longer afraid, because they now have nothing left to lose. After years of being ruled by repressive tactics, the uprising of 2003 remains a powerful memory in the people’s consciousness.
 “August 10 Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course demonstration” http://bhbanco.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_arc hive.html