There are many who have called for Leonard Peltier’s release, such as Congressional representatives, the National Congress of American Indians, Nelson Mandela, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, the Dalai-Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Jesse Jackson, and millions worldwide. But the so-called wheels of justice in the United States are not moving.
Many say Peltier is not guilty of shooting two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in S. Dakota in 1975. There were, e.g., witnesses who claimed that Peltier was the shooter, but later recanted their testimonies, revealing that the FBI intimidated and coerced them into saying that Peltier was the one who shot the agents. There was the withholding of evidence that could have proved Peltier was innocent. There was false “evidence” presented in court. And there were documents that were not released by the FBI because of “national security,” despite the use of the Freedom of Information Act by Peltier’s lawyers. Many would say that Peltier was the victim of a rigged trial.
According to the Free Leonard organization in a fact sheet about Leonard Peltier’s case, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation was experiencing a rash of political violence around 1973 to 1976. Peltier was a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and there was a request for him to try and defend tribal members from violence. AIM was politically active in the Reservation and that didn’t sit well with the tribal chairman. So, the latter hired vigilantes, self-described as “GOONS” to get rid of AIM. There were a series of murders of both tribal and AIM members, as well as assaults, by the GOONS. The FBI got involved but did not do anything to stop the GOONS. The FBI, in fact, provided them with information about AIM.
On June 26, 1975 there was an eruption of gunfire between AIM and 150 FBI agents, with GOONS and law enforcement assisting the bureau. Forty Native Americans were involved in the shootings. Only three were put on trial: Peltier, Bob Robideau and Darrell Butler. The latter two were acquitted based on self-defense, but Peltier was found guilty and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
At age 77, Peltier is experiencing several health problems including diabetes, hypertension and a heart condition. Recently, Peltier caught the Covid virus. Yet, he is still denied the chance to be released.
Perhaps members of the bourgeois establishment won’t let him go because it would be an embarrassment, resulting in a bruised ego; and the launching of an investigation. And that’s because Peltier is a symbol of the 1960s – 1970s, a time when many were hoping for real change; when youth spoke out; when there were large anti-war protests; when idealistic individuals spoke of revolution; when the Left had momentum (despite the flaws in various movements).
The establishment then and now doesn’t tolerate the necessity of real change. When it comes down to it, the establishment is satisfied with the current system, although there are attempts at change; but the attempts are superficial. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter: that the system is inherently flawed, despite the degree of democracy. Peltier was/is the antithesis of that system.
Peltier is nearing the end of his life. It would be a moral gesture to let him out of prison. Forty-six years of confinement is more than enough, and for something he probably didn’t do.