Joe Biden Is Going To Have To Talk About Leonard Peltier

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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’ve a scar,” she mentioned, motioning to a faint line above her proper eyebrow. “Simply lots of people hollering. That’s all I keep in mind.”

Maxine is in her 50s now. Her complete 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 particular person — Leonard Peltier, a pacesetter within the Indigenous rights motion — has been on Maxine’s thoughts every single day since.

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

“He ought to have been launched a very long time in the past,” she mentioned. “However they wanted any person guilty.”

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

Maxine was certainly one of lots of of activists and Indigenous leaders at a rally exterior 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 a criminal offense.

Immediately, 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 generally confined to a cell with 18 inches for him and 18 inches for his cellmate.

“I’m nonetheless right here,” he wrote Tuesday in an open letter to supporters.

Peltier has maintained his innocence the whole time he’s been in jail, which has virtually 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 as a result of he’s 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 a large banner with the identical message that took a minimum of 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 happy with being a powerful ally to Native communities and tribes. He must be. His administration has made historic investments in Indian Nation, from infrastructure to housing to local weather change. He respects tribal sovereignty. He talks concerning the want for justice in Native communities, notably relating to stopping violence in opposition to girls. 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 file main as much as November 2024. Native voters had 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 grow to be a logo of one thing a lot greater 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 mentioned a phrase about Peltier since turning into president.

On the one hand, it’s bizarre, contemplating that this can be a president prepared to deal with previous wrongs in opposition to Indigenous peoples. His administration could be very publicly reviewing the nation’s painful legacy of Indian boarding colleges, for instance, and taking concrete steps to fight the long-ignored disaster of lacking and murdered Indigenous girls.

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

“Biden doesn’t need to piss off the FBI as a result of they need any person locked up, even when it’s not the correct particular person. That’s a political prisoner.”

– Peggy Mainor, government 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 acceptable standards for commutation: (1) his previous age and demanding sickness, (2) the period of time he has already served, and (3) the unavailability of different cures,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, wrote in his personal letter to Biden final 12 months. “Mr. Peltier must be granted a commutation of his sentence.”

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

Paul O’Brien, the chief director of Amnesty Worldwide USA, additionally acquired arrested Tuesday. The huge worldwide human rights group not too long ago launched a brand new marketing campaign aimed squarely at urging Biden to launch Peltier.

Maxine acquired 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 had 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 the whole time. Maybe most outstanding concerning 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, mentioned she organized a march for Peltier in 1978 in Berkeley, California. She mentioned she was deeply disenchanted that President Barack Obama didn’t launch Peltier, and isn’t shocked that Biden hasn’t executed so.

“He in all probability looks like he doesn’t should do something as a result of he does have a powerful file” with tribes and Native communities, mentioned Mainor, who’s the chief director of MICA Group, a Native-led group in Baltimore that works with Indigenous communities to guard their lands and cultures.

“Biden doesn’t need to piss off the FBI as a result of they need any person locked up, even when it’s not the correct particular person,” she added. “That’s a political prisoner.”

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

“For my complete life, I’ve heard tales of Leonard Peltier and AIM,” she mentioned, referring to the American Indian Motion. “I’ve been listening to my grandparents advocate for him, and so, contemplating that I’m the youthful era, I’m persevering with 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 mentioned she’ll “most certainly” be voting for Biden, but when he doesn’t launch Peltier earlier than then, “I wouldn’t be comfortable about it.”

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

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

Not less than two of Peltier’s kids had 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 mentioned it was “actually emotional” being on the gathering for Peltier, whose freedom he’s been advocating for his complete life.

“I really feel like folks won’t ever perceive the stand he took,” mentioned Brown, tearing up. “They don’t notice how a lot love there was by the Lakota folks, the Navajo folks. The elders considered him as their son. … He stood up in opposition to the federal authorities. The person was fearless, his coronary heart was pure, his love for his folks.”

Standing just a few ft away, Chauncey Peltier mentioned he knew what he would say to Biden if he had 5 minutes alone with him.

“I’d ask him to please launch my father from jail and let him go dwelling. That may assist the therapeutic of my folks [that they] have been going by way of for 500 years,” he mentioned. “That may be a begin.”

“He’s fully failing us on this difficulty of justice for Leonard Peltier.”

– Dallas Goldtooth, an Indigenous rights activist and actor on the tv sequence “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’re conscious of Mr. Peltier’s request for a pardon and the outreach in assist of his request. As lots of you recognize, President Biden has a course of for contemplating all requests for pardon or commutation, which is run by way of our White Home Counsel’s Workplace. I don’t have extra to share on Mr. Peltier’s request presently.”

Peltier’s legal professional filed a clemency petition in July 2021, which begins the method for the Workplace of the Pardon Lawyer 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 needs him in jail:

The FBI stays resolute in opposition to 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 Court docket. No quantity of jail time modifications the details 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 unsuitable.

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 handle the FBI’s and U.S. Lawyer’s Workplace’s now-known egregious misconduct in Peltier’s case. The tenth U.S. Circuit Court docket of Appeals concluded in 2003 that the U.S. authorities’s conduct in Peltier’s case “is to be condemned. The federal government withheld proof. It intimidated witnesses. These details will not be disputed.”

Moreover, the FBI assertion doesn’t handle the company’s personal function in instigating the shoot-out that day, which has been known as out over time by the tenth Circuit, the late Decide Gerald Heaney on the eighth U.S. Circuit Court docket of Appeals, and former U.S. Lawyer 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 gang gathered exterior the White Home to induce clemency for Leonard Peltier.

Anna Moneymaker through Getty Pictures

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

“Completely,” mentioned Dallas Goldtooth, 40, an Indigenous rights activist and an actor on the TV sequence “Reservation Canines.”

“He’s fully failing us on this difficulty of justice for Leonard Peltier,” Goldtooth mentioned. “All of us grew up with Peltier on our minds, our hearts, in our mouths. The truth that he’s nonetheless locked up is one thing that we arrange round. As a result of we need to see him free, but additionally we need to see our points acknowledged by this administration.”

Maxine mentioned folks in her group recurrently speak about how disenchanted they’re that Biden hasn’t launched Peltier.

“Nobody goes to prove,” she speculated. “They only say that they made the unsuitable alternative once more. Any person ought to have executed one thing.”

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 mentioned it was essential 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 at all times been a stand-in for us, for all Native peoples,” mentioned Harjo, who had addressed the gang earlier.

“This isn’t some summary man,” she continued. “He was jailed as a logo for us, for the freedom-loving Native folks and the freedom-fighting Native folks. He’s been in jail so long as he has been a logo 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 exterior of the White Home in assist of imprisoned Native American activist Leonard Peltier on Sept. 12, 2023, in Washington.

AP Picture/Stephanie Scarbrough

Harjo mentioned what many individuals don’t perceive is that every one Indigenous folks carry “generations of damage and ache” brought on by the U.S. authorities’s actions.

“We don’t need to see the previous days come once more. We would like this to be a brand new day, and President Biden is simply the type of particular person that may make that occur,” she mentioned. “I don’t name him out; I name on him to do it. I consider 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 enchantment 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 Non secular Freedom Act to the Violence In opposition to Ladies Act.

“I feel he’ll do it,” she mentioned of Biden finally releasing Peltier. “I feel that he’s a compassionate man and he’ll perceive that that is our household we’re speaking about.”

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