Joe Biden Is Going To Have To Talk About Leonard Peltier

WASHINGTON ― Maxine was 4 years previous when the bullet whizzed by her face. She remembers feeling a burning sensation on her brow. After which the blood. Her uncle grabbed her, and so they ran.

“I have a scar,” she stated, motioning to a faint line above her proper eyebrow. “Just a lot of people hollering. That’s all I remember.”

Maxine is in her 50s now. Her whole life has been formed by that near-miss, and it’s not simply because she might have died that day. It’s due to the one that has been in jail ever since that chaotic 1975 shootout between FBI brokers and Native American rights activists on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. And that individual — Leonard Peltier, a frontrunner within the Indigenous rights motion — has been on Maxine’s thoughts on daily basis since.

“Every day. Every day we pray for him,” Maxine, who requested to solely use her first identify, stated of her tribal group on Pine Ridge Reservation. About 19,000 folks dwell right here.

“He should have been released a long time ago,” she stated. “But they needed somebody to blame.”

“Every day. Every day we pray for him,” Maxine of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation said of Leonard Peltier.
“Every day. Every day we pray for him,” Maxine of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation stated of Leonard Peltier.

Maxine was considered one of a whole lot of activists and Indigenous leaders at a rally outdoors the White Home on Tuesday, urging President Joe Biden to grant clemency to Peltier. Tuesday was Peltier’s 79th birthday. He’s spent 48 of these years in jail, or practically two-thirds of his life.

Peltier’s imprisonment has been rehashed for many years. But when time has made something extra clear, it’s that his imprisonment is bookended by apparent, infuriating injustice: The U.S. authorities put Peltier in jail based mostly on lies and misconduct, with no proof that he dedicated against the law.

At this time, Peltier is an ailing, 79-year-old man deteriorating in a most safety federal jail in Florida. He makes use of a walker. He’s blind in a single eye from a partial stroke. He has severe well being issues associated to diabetes and an aortic aneurysm.

His life is usually confined to a cell with 18 inches for him and 18 inches for his cellmate.

“I am still here,” he wrote Tuesday in an open letter to supporters.

Peltier has maintained his innocence your complete time he’s been in jail, which has nearly definitely prevented him from being paroled. Final 12 months, United Nations authorized specialists made the bizarre determination to evaluation Peltier’s parole course of and concluded that it was so problematic that Biden ought to launch him instantly.

“Mr. Peltier continues to be detained because he is Native American,” they wrote in a damning 17-page authorized opinion.

Biden has the authority to launch Peltier at any time. Indigenous rights leaders made it clear Tuesday that they need him to do it now, earlier than it’s too late and Peltier dies. For hours, they shouted it on the White Home. They held up dozens of “Free Peltier” indicators and unfurled an enormous banner with the identical message that took at the very least 10 folks to carry it up. They chanted, burned sage sticks and banged drums in between speeches and tribal dances.

Their voices ought to definitely matter to Biden, who’s pleased with being a robust ally to Native communities and tribes. He needs to be. His administration has made historic investments in Indian Nation, from infrastructure to housing to local weather change. He respects tribal sovereignty. He talks in regards to the want for justice in Native communities, notably in relation to stopping violence towards ladies. He’s put a number of Indigenous folks into senior positions in his administration, not the least of whom is Inside Secretary Deb Haaland, who passionately urged Peltier’s launch in her former function as a member of Congress.

The president might be more and more reminding Native communities and tribes of his document main as much as November 2024. Native voters have been essential to Biden’s victory in 2020, notably in key battleground states like Arizona and Wisconsin.

However Peltier’s extended imprisonment hangs over all of this. For a lot of at Tuesday’s rally, and past, he has turn into a logo of one thing a lot larger than himself. He represents the centuries of ache and injustice that Native communities have endured by the hands of the U.S. authorities. The longer Peltier stays in jail, the longer the collective wound festers.

Biden hasn’t stated a phrase about Peltier since changing into president.

On the one hand, it’s bizarre, contemplating that this can be a president keen to handle previous wrongs towards Indigenous peoples. His administration may be very publicly reviewing the nation’s painful legacy of Indian boarding faculties, for instance, and taking concrete steps to fight the long-ignored disaster of lacking and murdered Indigenous ladies.

Alternatively, Biden’s silence places him in keeping with his presidential predecessors. The FBI has made it clear, for many years, that it by no means desires Peltier launched. And Biden, to date, seems to be letting the FBI dictate how this goes.

“Biden doesn’t want to piss off the FBI because they want somebody locked up, even if it’s not the right person. That’s a political prisoner.”

– Peggy Mainor, govt director of MICA Group, a Native-led group in Baltimore

However pleas to Biden for mercy for Peltier aren’t going away, and are doubtless solely going to get louder as election season picks up. The Democratic Nationwide Committee final 12 months unanimously handed a decision calling on Biden to grant clemency to Peltier. Seven Democratic senators did too, together with a separate group of Home Democrats.

“Mr. Peltier meets appropriate criteria for commutation: (1) his old age and critical illness, (2) the amount of time he has already served, and (3) the unavailability of other remedies,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, wrote in his personal letter to Biden final 12 months. “Mr. Peltier should be granted a commutation of his sentence.”

Throughout Tuesday’s rally, 35 folks received arrested, together with Fawn Sharp, the president of the Nationwide Congress of American Indians, the biggest and strongest Indigenous rights group within the nation. Sharp advised HuffPost final month that Peltier’s freedom is a high precedence for her group and its membership heading into 2024.

Paul O’Brien, the manager director of Amnesty Worldwide USA, additionally received arrested Tuesday. The huge worldwide human rights group lately launched a brand new marketing campaign aimed squarely at urging Biden to launch Peltier.

Maxine received arrested, too.

Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, prays for Leonard Peltier before getting arrested at a White House rally in support of his freedom.
Fawn Sharp, president of the Nationwide Congress of American Indians, prays for Leonard Peltier earlier than getting arrested at a White Home rally in assist of his freedom.

NDN Collective/Willi White

These have been deliberate arrests to make an announcement, and everybody was launched quickly afterward. The protest, organized by NDN Collective and Amnesty Worldwide USA, was peaceable your complete time. Maybe most exceptional in regards to the gathering was its range: Folks of all races and ages, from youngsters to folks of their 70s, felt a connection to Peltier’s story. Many might speak intimately about his imprisonment.

Peggy Mainor, who’s in her 60s, stated she organized a march for Peltier in 1978 in Berkeley, California. She stated she was deeply disillusioned that President Barack Obama didn’t launch Peltier, and isn’t stunned that Biden hasn’t executed so.

“He probably feels like he doesn’t have to do anything because he does have a strong record” with tribes and Native communities, stated Mainor, who’s the manager director of MICA Group, a Native-led group in Baltimore that works with Indigenous communities to guard their lands and cultures.

“Biden doesn’t want to piss off the FBI because they want somebody locked up, even if it’s not the right person,” she added. “That’s a political prisoner.”

Tyler Star Comes Out, a 20-year-old Indigenous girl from Pine Ridge Reservation, stated she feels tied to Peltier as a result of he was arrested on her grandparents’ land.

“For my entire life, I’ve heard stories of Leonard Peltier and AIM,” she stated, referring to the American Indian Motion. “I’ve been hearing my grandparents advocate for him, and so, considering that I’m the younger generation, I’m continuing on their work.”

Star Comes Out, whose father is the president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, might be sufficiently old to vote in her first presidential election in 2024. She stated she’ll “most likely” be voting for Biden, but when he doesn’t launch Peltier earlier than then, “I wouldn’t be happy about it.”

Requested if she had a message for Biden on Peltier, she replied, “Respect our elders.”

A display in support of Leonard Peltier.
A show in assist of Leonard Peltier.

A minimum of two of Peltier’s kids have been on the protest, Kathy and Chauncey Peltier. So was Norman Patrick Brown, who was with Peltier throughout that 1975 shootout. He was solely 15 on the time, the youngest AIM member there that day.

Brown stated it was “really emotional” being on the gathering for Peltier, whose freedom he’s been advocating for his whole life.

“I feel like people will never understand the stand he took,” stated Brown, tearing up. “They don’t realize how much love there was by the Lakota people, the Navajo people. The elders thought of him as their son. … He stood up against the federal government. The man was fearless, his heart was pure, his love for his people.”

Standing a couple of ft away, Chauncey Peltier stated he knew what he would say to Biden if he had 5 minutes alone with him.

“I would ask him to please release my father from prison and let him go home. That would help the healing of my people [that they] have been going through for 500 years,” he stated. “That would be a start.”

“He’s completely failing us on this issue of justice for Leonard Peltier.”

– Dallas Goldtooth, an Indigenous rights activist and actor on the tv collection “Reservation Canines.”

The White Home didn’t reply to a request for remark about Tuesday’s protest or about whether or not Biden is contemplating clemency for Peltier.

HuffPost has requested the White Home about Peltier a number of instances over the past two years. The final time it offered a remark was in February 2022, with this assertion from a Biden spokesperson:

“We are aware of Mr. Peltier’s request for a pardon and the outreach in support of his request. As many of you know, President Biden has a process for considering all requests for pardon or commutation, which is run through our White House Counsel’s Office. I don’t have more to share on Mr. Peltier’s request at this time.”

Peltier’s lawyer filed a clemency petition in July 2021, which begins the method for the Workplace of the Pardon Legal professional to evaluation his case for being launched from jail.

Requested what motion there’s been, if any, on Peltier’s clemency petition within the final two years, Justice Division spokesperson Dena Iverson pointed HuffPost to a searchable database on its web site for these particulars on Wednesday.

Its standing right here stays the identical because it has been for 2 years: “Pending.”

The status of Leonard Peltier's clemency petition as of Sept. 14, 2023. The petition was filed in July 2021.
The standing of Leonard Peltier’s clemency petition as of Sept. 14, 2023. The petition was filed in July 2021.

Division of Justice web site

The FBI, which seems to be the one actual impediment to Peltier’s launch, offered an announcement Wednesday on why it nonetheless desires him in jail:

The FBI stays resolute towards the commutation of Leonard Peltier’s sentence for murdering FBI Particular Brokers Jack Coler and Ronald Williams at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. We should always remember or put apart that Peltier deliberately and mercilessly murdered these two younger males and has by no means expressed regret for his ruthless actions.

Peltier’s conviction, rightly and pretty obtained, nonetheless stands, and has withstood quite a few appeals to a number of courts, together with the U.S. Supreme Courtroom. No quantity of jail time adjustments the information surrounding Coler and Williams’ deaths and commuting Peltier’s sentence now would solely serve to decrease the brutality of his crime and the struggling of their surviving households and the FBI household.”

However that is the very same assertion the FBI offered to HuffPost a 12 months and a half in the past, and each sentence of it’s outdated, deceptive or flat-out fallacious.

HuffPost requested the FBI in a follow-up e mail to elucidate all of the discrepancies in its assertion.

There was by no means proof that Peltier murdered anybody, and the prosecutors themselves later admitted they didn’t know who did it. Peltier was by no means convicted of homicide; he was convicted of “aiding and abetting” by advantage of being current that day.

The assertion additionally doesn’t deal with the FBI’s and U.S. Legal professional’s Workplace’s now-known egregious misconduct in Peltier’s case. The tenth U.S. Circuit Courtroom of Appeals concluded in 2003 that the U.S. authorities’s habits in Peltier’s case “is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed.”

Moreover, the FBI assertion doesn’t deal with the company’s personal function in instigating the shoot-out that day, which has been referred to as out over time by the tenth Circuit, the late Decide Gerald Heaney on the eighth U.S. Circuit Courtroom of Appeals, and former U.S. Legal professional James Reynolds.

An FBI spokesperson adopted as much as say the bureau has no additional remark.

Actor and activist Dallas Goldtooth speaks to the crowd gathered outside the White House to urge clemency for Leonard Peltier.
Actor and activist Dallas Goldtooth speaks to the group gathered outdoors the White Home to induce clemency for Leonard Peltier.

Anna Moneymaker through Getty Photos

Some attendees at Tuesday’s rally predicted that Biden’s inaction on Peltier will depress voter turnout in Native communities in November 2024.

“Absolutely,” stated Dallas Goldtooth, 40, an Indigenous rights activist and an actor on the TV collection “Reservation Dogs.”

“He’s completely failing us on this issue of justice for Leonard Peltier,” Goldtooth stated. “All of us grew up with Peltier on our minds, our hearts, in our mouths. The fact that he’s still locked up is something that we organize around. Because we want to see him free, but also we want to see our issues acknowledged by this administration.”

Maxine stated folks in her group usually discuss how disillusioned they’re that Biden hasn’t launched Peltier.

“No one is going to turn out,” she speculated. “They just say that they made the wrong choice again. Somebody should have done something.”

However others noticed Biden in a special gentle.

Suzan Harjo, a longtime Indigenous rights advocate and 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, sat in a wheelchair amid the motion. Baking within the solar on the cement, the 78-year-old poet and coverage advocate stated it was necessary to her to be there as a result of Peltier has come to embody a lot, for thus many Indigenous folks, for thus lengthy.

“Leonard has always been a stand-in for us, for all Native peoples,” stated Harjo, who had addressed the group earlier.

“This isn’t some abstract guy,” she continued. “He was jailed as a symbol for us, for the freedom-loving Native people and the freedom-fighting Native people. He’s been in prison as long as he has been a symbol for us.”

People gather for a rally outside of the White House in support of imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier on Sept. 12, 2023, in Washington.
Folks collect for a rally outdoors of the White Home in assist of imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier on Sept. 12, 2023, in Washington.

AP Photograph/Stephanie Scarbrough

Harjo stated what many individuals don’t perceive is that each one Indigenous folks carry “generations of hurt and pain” attributable to the U.S. authorities’s actions.

“We don’t want to see the old days come again. We want this to be a new day, and President Biden is just the kind of person that can make that happen,” she stated. “I don’t call him out; I call on him to do it. I believe in him.”

Harjo brings the attitude of somebody who labored with Biden on and off for many years throughout his time within the Senate. Final month, she wrote to him to personally attraction to him to launch Peltier. She praised him for being a longtime supporter of restoring Native peoples’ rights, from his work on the Indian Little one Welfare Act to the American Indian Spiritual Freedom Act to the Violence Towards Ladies Act.

“I think he will do it,” she stated of Biden in the end releasing Peltier. “I think that he’s a compassionate man and he’ll understand that this is our family we’re talking about.”

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