Free Leonard Peltier!

Washington, D.C.

On Sept. 12, Leonard Peltier turned 79 years old in a maximum security federal prison in Coleman, Florida. He has spent over 47 years being locked up for being a leader of AIM — the American Indian Movement.

That’s 20 years longer than the time the old apartheid regime in South Africa imprisoned Nelson Mandela. The late President Mandela sought Leonard Peltier’s freedom.

So have people around the world. Thirty-five people were arrested at the White House on Sept. 12, demanding the Indigenous political prisoner’s release.  

The same day, people rallied in New York City’s Union Square for the AIM leader. Among those attending were Estela Vazquez, Executive Vice President at 1199 SEIU healthcare workers, and James Tarik Haskins, the former political prisoner and Black Panther Party member.

All Joe Biden has to do is pick up a pen to free an older man suffering from diabetes, hypertension, and partial blindness from a stroke. Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation, urged Biden to do that in a Nov. 30, 2022 letter.

So has the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Pope Francis, and seven U.S. senators. 

Even former U.S. Attorney James Reynolds — whose office prosecuted Leonard Peltier — wrote to President Biden asking that the AIM leader be pardoned. Reynolds admits that Peltier was convicted “on the basis of minimal evidence.” 

Revenge for resistance

Leonard Peltier is being kept locked up in revenge for the historic 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, by AIM members and supporters in 1973. That’s where 300 children, women, and men from the Lakota Nation were slaughtered by the U.S. army in 1890.

In the years following the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation, over 60 people were murdered in the surrounding Pine Ridge reservation. Just as Mississippi represents for Black people the height of racism, so does South Dakota mean the same for Indigenous people. 

For example, in 1967, William Janklow (who later became South Dakota Attorney General and then Governor) raped 15-year-old Jancita Eagle Deer, who lived on the Rosebud reservation. Several years later, she was killed in a hit-and-run incident.

The FBI refused to do anything about the murders on Pine Ridge. Residents asked Leonard Peltier and other AIM members to provide support and protection.

Tensions resulted in a shootout in which two FBI agents and a young Indigenous man, Joe Stuntz, were killed. No one was prosecuted for Stuntz’s death.

But the death of the FBI agents allowed the U.S. Government to indict AIM members Leonard Peltier, Robert Robideau, and Dean Butler. Robideau and Butler were found not guilty. Peltier, who was extradited from Canada, was tried later and convicted in a tainted trial. 

Leonard Peltier is now imprisoned in Sumter County, Florida, where three Black people were lynched. Sumter County is also where the U.S. army suffered one of its most significant defeats in the Dade battle during the Second Seminole War in 1835.

In the spirit of Crazy Horse, free Leonard Peltier!

New York City. SLL photo: Stephen Millies

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