Los Angeles—On Feb. 8, 50 activists of all races gathered at MacArthur Park to be part of freeing Leonard Peltier, who is starting his 38th year in a federal penitentiary for a crime he did not commit. On April 18, 1977, an all-white jury convicted Peltier on two murder charges. He was sentenced to two life sentences. He was targeted as an American Indian Movement activist in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee II siege at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
We gathered in a circle for a prayer and to hear speakers including Burns Prairie, an Oglala woman from Pine Ridge, who said that every time Leonard comes up for parole it is denied. He is not feeling well and needs to be set free. Another woman said we started organizing two years ago. What we do today will give Leonard strength. Daniel of the Native American Leadership Alliance said we are on Chumash land and need to build a new world. A Salvadoran man said they use the criminal justice system to criminalize us. They tried to do that to me. A man sang a song in Japanese that translated into “This is a long road.”
There were Aztec and Native American dancers and drummers. Various people then read poems and excerpts from Leonard Peltier’s book Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance that took up how uranium mining has negatively impacted the Lakota people.
The circle ended with an appeal to call President Obama and urge him to grant executive clemency to Peltier. Former President Clinton was considering clemency until 300 FBI members marched against freeing Peltier.
He has been in prison since 1976 despite there being no evidence of his guilt. As his book says, “Our work will be unfinished until not one human being is hungry or battered, not a single person is forced to die in war, not one innocent languishes imprisoned, and no one is persecuted for his or her belief.”