Political Prisoner
Peltier's medical condition serious
Joe Courter
July/August 1998

Saturday, June 27th I attended a rally in Washington DC calling for freedom for Leonard Peltier, a Native American activist who was convicted of killing two federal agents in a shootout at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Peltier has been in jail for over 22 years, despite overwhelming evidence that the grounds used to convict him were false, that evidence was withheld or suppressed, and that the government wanted revenge for the agents' death, and that convicting Peltier was their way to do this. For more information on the case, see the book by Peter Mathiessen "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse," the videos "Incident at Oglala," and "Warrior, the Story of Leonard Peltier," or consult the Spirit of Crazy Horse newsletter; all are available at the Civic Media Center.

The main speaker at the rally was Peltier's attorney Ramsey Clark, a former US Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson.

Ramsey Clark brought the news that Leonard's health is deteriorating rapidly due to an infection in his jaw, and requested all present to contact the head of the Bureau of Prisons to "Let Leonard Peltier obtain surgery at the Mayo Clinic immediately." I would ask you--reader of these words--to contact her as well:

Kathleen Hawk, Director
Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 1st St. NW
Washington, DC 20734

Clark went on to talk about how the parole commission heard Leonard's case in May of '98. The hearing officer, after hearing presentation from all parties, held that Leonard should be paroled immediately. For stating this, he was removed from the parole commission, and the reconstructed commission overturned his ruling, in effect saying, "Come back next century." Not only that, the report on this was not delivered to Clark until after the 30 day appeals window had closed. But, he said, other avenues are being pursued. Clark also mentioned that there is an appeal for a commutation, or pardon, for Leonard on Clinton's desk. It has been there and ignored since 1992.

Other speakers at the rally included Native American leaders, Chicano organizers, Central America activists, Food not Bombs organizers (they provided free food for the crowd), and African American activists, including the wife of Marshall "Eddie" Conway, a Black Panther locked up in a COINTELPRO sting over 27 years ago, and Pamela Africa of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia.

Pam Africa and another Philadelphia organizer shared the reading of a statement of support from Tom Morrello of the band Rage Against the Machine. It went as follows:

"They would have you believe that power resides in the courts. They would have you believe that power resides in the halls of Congress. They would have you believe that power resides in that big white building on Pennsylvania Avenue. They would have you wait patiently and obediently while the powerful decide Leonard Peltier's fate.

"But Leonard's case will not be decided in the courts. It is clear now that Leonard's case will have to be decided in the streets, and all those fools, from the president to the parole board, must be held accountable for this travesty of justice. Apparently they will have to be reminded about something that we already know--that power resides in the solidarity of the people.

"The first time I spoke to Leonard Peltier I was interviewing him for a radio free LA broadcast. The prison authorities twice interrupted our interview, and finally cut us off because of the "seditious nature" of the conversation. Leonard was punished for speaking the truth, and spent time in solitary confinement as a result. Leonard's case is so important because it highlights just how seditious the truth can be.

"The injustices done to Leonard Peltier are an extension of the 500 years of history of brutality and injustice visited upon the indigenous people of the Americas in the name of power and profit. By confronting the authorities with their shameful and criminal behavior in his case, he has laid bare the criminal history of which they are a part. His courage to speak those dangerous truths have made him a hero and inspiration to millions around the world.

"For Rage Against the Machine, Leonard Peltier's courage is a part of every note we play, lyric we sing, and beat we drop. He's a reminder that it is not through the calm deliberations of our rulers that justice is served, but rather through the solidarity of people like you here today. It was that solidarity which won the eight hour day for workers, that solidarity that won voting rights for women and African Americans, that solidarity that continues to be a thorn in the side of sweatshop lords and immigrant bashers alike.

"And it was that solidarity which won the freedom of Geronimo Pratt, and it will be that solidarity that will win a new trial for Mumia Abu Jamal. And it will be that solidarity, your courage and activity, that sets Leonard Peltier free."

We are forming a Peltier Support Committee in Gainesville. Those interested can write us care of the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. University Ave., Gainesville, FL 32601, or call us there at 373-0010

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