Supporters Seek Transparency for Leonard Peltier, Native American Activist

WASHINGTON – Since 1977, Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist, has served two life sentences in federal prison for his role in the killing of two FBI agents in a mass shooting. in 1975 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota – a punishment his advocates have long seen as the product of an unfair prosecution and a flawed trial.

Now his supporters, including members of Congress, are making what they see as a last-ditch effort to win clemency for Mr. Peltier, who is 77 years old and has diabetes. hypertension, partial blindness due to stroke and aortic aneurysm. Mr. Peltier, whom many Native American activists consider a political prisoner, also recently tested positive for coronavirus.

Years of efforts to overturn his conviction have failed, as have campaigns to pardon or reduce his sentence. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both left office without acting on pleas for his clemency, said Clinton after hundreds of angry former and current FBI agents marched to the White House to protest. for you to consider such a move and office director at the time clarified his objections.

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, a Democrat of Arizona, sent letters to the White House on Peltier’s behalf, including one last month after he tested positive for Covid-19. That letter was signed by eight other members of Congress. Mr. Peltier’s attorney is also pursuing the matter through the regular leniency process at the Department of Justice.

It is unclear whether President Biden will consider the request for clemency. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI declined to comment on whether it would now object to a reduced sentence for Mr. Peltier.

Mr. Peltier’s fight for freedom has long drawn support from global activists and celebrities, including Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and actors Robert Redford and Danny Glover.

Alli McCracken Jarrar, a human rights campaigner with Amnesty International, said the group had been campaigning for Peltier’s release for years, hoping to undo what it saw as abuses. use the criminal justice system.

“For the past 44 years, prominent individuals and institutions have called on president after president to grant him clemency,” she said. “It’s been too long for him to be pardoned, so he can live out the rest of his life with his community.”

Mr. Peltier grew up on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota; members of the tribe said they would take care of him if he was released.

The deadly confrontation that sent Peltier to prison took place on a ranch on the Pine Ridge reserve, about 10 miles from Wound Knee, where American soldiers had massacred hundreds of unarmed Lakota people nearly a century earlier. .

Native American activists returned to occupy the village during a protracted protest in 1973, hoping to force the federal government to investigate what they see as corruption in the leadership of the Oglala Tribe. Sioux, treaty violations and problems with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, died in a gunfight. One of the activists was also killed, but his death was never investigated.

Mr. Peltier of the American Indian Movement, which sought to bring federal attention to federal violations of the treaty rights of Native Americans; he was convicted of murder in 1977 and has since been in federal prison, now in Florida.

He has admitted taking part in the shooting in self-defence, but said he did not kill the agents. He and his supporters also say that FBI agents coerced witnesses, and prosecutors withheld incriminating evidence while extraditing Mr. Peltier from Canada and his trial in North Dakota.

Mr. Peltier’s arrest comes at a time of intense unrest on the Pine Ridge Preserve.

On February 27, 1973, activists Oglala Lakota and members of the American Indian Movement took control of the Injured Knee to bring the federal government’s attention to the violation. treaty rights and a tribal president accused of corruption and association with the federal government.

The result was a 71-day armed conflict between Native Americans and federal law enforcement at Wounds Knee that left two activists dead, and a federal agent shot and paralyzed.

Even after the siege, conflict at the Pine Ridge Reserve continued. Murders were frequent, and the federal and tribal police forces on the reserve behaved like a paramilitary force. Then was the Pine Ridge Reserve shooting in 1975, where two FBI agents and a Native American activist were killed, leading to the impeachment of Mr. Peltier and two others in connection with his death. agents.

Mr. Peltier’s accomplices were not found guilty of killing the agents after they argued over their right to self-defence. They were tried in Iowa, while Mr. Peltier was tried in North Dakota, where the judge blocked some of the evidence that was allowed in the Iowa case.

Supporters of Mr Peltier say years of appeals have created holes in the government’s case against him.

James Reynolds, a former US attorney in Iowa who was predecessor Evan Hultman, said his belief is based solely on the fact that he was present at the gunfight with a weapon that day – not was he fired a fatal shot or any hand in killing anyone. , handled the initial prosecution against Mr. Peltier.

Reynolds was among those who campaigned for Peltier’s release, writing to both the Obama and Trump administrations. He said that while the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found Mr. Peltier had a fair trial, he no longer believed that was the case.

Mr Reynolds said: “How many things he needs to be around before you say enough is enough. “They’ve been fighting this for over 40 years and it seems unfortunately this is the government’s position.”

Kevin Sharp, Mr. Peltier’s attorney, said granting him clemency could be an important step toward healing the rift between Native Americans and the federal government.

“It’s important to break the past,” said Mr. Sharp. “The FBI will say they are no longer J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. I believe them when they say so. But if you really want to get rid of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover, they need to free this prisoner.”

Ruth Anna Buffalo, a citizen of the Nation of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, and the state representative in North Dakota, was among two dozen Native American state legislators who signed a letter to Mr. Biden last month. 10 requests for clemency from Mr. Peltier.

She said the president has yet to include Native Americans in the administration’s efforts to reform aspects of the federal justice system. Giving clemency to Mr Peltier would be a step in the right direction, she said.

“We are not asking for special treatment,” Ms. Buffalo said. “We are asking to be treated like human beings. None of us are free until Leonard is free.” Supporters Seek Transparency for Leonard Peltier, Native American Activist

Fry Electronics Team

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