No-Knock: An Artistic Speak-Out Against the American Police State

[I read a shorter version of this piece at a program organized by Adam Gottlieb for the Revolutionary Poets Brigade of Chicago, June 7, 2014, and in conjunction with other th-1readings going on around the country on this date on the theme of police brutality. The title of the event, No-knock, an Artistic Speak Out Against the ‘American Police State,‘ references the poem by Gil Scott-Heron, “No-Knock.”  I was honored to read with a dozen other artist activists,  whose eloquent and passionate words shaped Big Poems indeed.  One of the readers, Mariame Kaba, wrote a moving piece about her experience at the event, on the Prison Culture blog:  “Standing on a Soapbox, Calling out the Cops.” — Lew Rosenbaum]



Thanks to Adam for inviting me to present here today. Thanks to all the other presenters, whose important words you have heard and will hear. And a shout out to poets in New Orleans and San Francisco and perhaps elsewhere who are having similar events today, poets from 100,000 Poets for Change.

Today is Brooksday, Gwendolyn Brooks’ birthday, and the second annual marathon reading of Gwendolyn Brooks’ works, taking place at Printers’ Row Bookfair under the auspices of the Guild Complex and Third World Press. Ms. Brooks’ spirit is here, Gwendolyn Brooks spirit is here, the Gwendolyn Brooks who wrote, in her poem “Winnie”:


I am not a tight faced Poet.

I am tired of little tight-faced poets sitting down to

shape perfect unimportant pieces.

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks

This is a time for Big Poems,

roaring up out of sleaze,

poems from ice, from vomit, and from tainted blood.

This is the time for stiff or viscous poems.

Big, and big.


This is the kind of poetry you will hear today.

If you travel across Lake Michigan from around Winnetka you will wind up on the beach near Benton Harbor. Benton Harbor is the home of Reverend Edward Pinkney, the first American banned from the internet. That’s right. Banned from using his computer so that the story of Whirlpool’s corporate domination of Benton Harbor will not get out;

thso that the story of the emergency manager dictatorships, popping up all over Michigan now but originating in Benton Harbor will not get out.

So that the story of the social face of fascism in this country will not get out.

Now that the corporations, like Whirlpool, are so thoroughly in bed with, embedded in, the political state, the protests emerging from places like Benton Harbor are challenging the legitimacy of corporate rule. Here is what the battle is about (most of the following comes from the online BlackList (

Rev. Pinkney has not been convicted of any crime whatsoever, but a gag order was issued forbidding him from using the Internet. His wife Dorothy has not even been accused of any crime, but she is forbidden from using the Internet in their home. No person who has been convicted using the Internet for cyber stalking, child pornography, or bank fraud has ever been banned from using the Internet, but Rev. Pinkney, who is accused of election fraud, was ordered to refrain from going online for any reason.

Rev. Pinkney sponsored a recall petition against the mayor of Benton Harbor, Michigan that gathered sufficient signatures. The recall petition has been more rigorously investigated than murders of young black men whose bodies are continually found in that area. Armed police officers went door to door interviewing petitioners and asking exactly what day (petitions had been circulated as much as six months before) they signed the petition. The rigorous investigation led to criminal charges against Pinkney. When he went to the hearing connected with this matter, a gag order was instituted that completely blocked him from using the Internet, although the petition for recall of the mayor did not collect online signatures.

At a hearing Thursday, June 5, 2014, the judge set a trial date for July 21, 2014 on his case of voter fraud. The judge did lift the house arrest and prohibition against using the internet conditions.

Rev. Pinkney’s arrest, gag order, and setting of a trial date on the flimsiest of evidence were probably instituted to prevent success of the following initiatives:
1) the annual OCCUPY the PGA demonstration, protesting the sale of public lands for a golf course for elitists;
2) the boycott against Whirlpool products (Whirlpool is #153 on the 2014 Fortune list of 500 biggest corporations);
3) the protest against Benton Harbor Police Department for refusing to investigate the mutilations and deaths of numerous black people, which are perceived by Rev. Pinkney and others as being unrequited racial murders; and
4) the recall of elected officials who Rev. Pinkney and others perceive as being in place to represent corporate interests rather than the people of Benton Harbor.

This story has been covered for over a decade by the People’s Tribune and Tribuno del Pueblo newspapers. The current, June 2014, issue has a cover story on Reverend Pinkney and a center spread which includes information about what you can do. Please take a copy. Donations are welcome and cover the cost of printing the paper so that the blackout against stories like this can be broken.

In order to respect the time of the other readers, I’d like to close with 2 short poems and a final invocation of Gwendolyn Brooks.

The first is by Ray Durem, an African American communist poet who wrote “Award.”

Award by Ray Durem (1915-1963)th-2

A Gold Watch to the FBI Man who has followed me for 25 years.

Well, old spy
looks like I
led you down some pretty blind alleys,
took you on several trips to Mexico,
fishing in the high Sierras,
jazz at the Philharmonic.
You’ve watched me all your life,
I’ve clothed your wife,
put your two sons through college.
what good has it done?
the sun keeps rising every morning.
ever see me buy an Assistant President?
or close a school?
or lend money to Trujillo?
ever catch me rigging airplane prices?
I bought some after-hours whiskey in L.A.
but the Chief got his pay.
I ain’t killed no Koreans
or fourteen-year-old boys in Mississippi.
neither did I bomb Guatemala,
or lend guns to shoot Algerians.
I admit I took a Negro child
to a white rest room in Texas,
but she was my daughter, only three,
who had to pee.


The second is a poem by John Beecher, who wonders whether Etowah County, Alabama is really part of the US, as we might wonder about Benton Harbor, Detroit and much of Michigan under the emergency dictatorships, or for that matter Chicago under the elected dictatorship of Rahm Emanuel:

th-3News Item (from Collected Poems, 1924-1974)

I see in the paper this morning

where a guy in Gadsden Alabama

by the name of John House

who was organizing rubber workers in a lawful union

against the wishes of the Goodyear Rubber Company and the Sheriff of Etowah County

was given a blood transfusion

after being beaten with blackjacks

by five parties unknown.

The Police Chief is “investigating”

and I have a pretty good idea of what that will amount to.

A few years ago they took Sherman Dalrymple

President of the United Rubber Workers of America

out of a peaceable union meeting in Gadsden

and right in front of the Etowah County court house

before the eyes of hundreds including the Sheriff

the deputies

beat him almost to death.

Plenty more

who have tried to organize workers in Etowah County

have had the same thing happen to them.


The Government of the United States

should know about John House

but maybe they won’t notice the little item

on the back pages of the Birmingham paper

because the front pages are all filled up with Hitler

and how he is threatening democracy

so I am asking

the Government of the United States

to pay a little attention to this.

To defend democracy

the Government of the United States

is building a lot of munitions plants around the country

with the people’s money

because the people want democracy defended

One of these plants is being built at Gadsden

in Etowah County Alabama —-

twenty-four million dollars worth of plant to be exact —-

twenty-four million dollars of the people’s money

going into a county

which isn’t even a part of the United States

Or is it?


I think it would be a good idea

for the Government of the United States

to look into this

and see if they can’t persuade Etowah

to come back in the Union

If persuasion won’t work they might try a little coercion

because the laws of the United States ought to be made good

and as luck would have it

there’s a great big Army camp at Anniston

just thirty miles away

Not long ago I drove through this camp

and I saw new barracks and tents all over the scenery

and thousands upon thousands of soldiers

getting ready to defend democracy

They looked to me

as if they could do it

and they looked to me

as if they wanted a try at it

Maybe they could get a little practice over in Etowah

before they pitch into

the foreign fascists


And finally, don’t let the messages you hear today end here. From Gwendolyn Brooks again, from the same poem, in the voice of Winnie Mandela, who says:

You don’t get all your questions answered in this world.

How many answers shall be found

in the developing world of my Poem?

I don’t know. Nevertheless I put my Poem,

which is my life, into your hands, where it will

do the best it can.


Come talk with me. Get a copy of the People’s Tribune today. Free Rev. Pinkney!