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 October 9, 2023

Bernie Sanders among Democrats calling for killer to walk free

Members of Congress urge President Biden to consider the release of aging Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who was imprisoned for nearly 50 years after a controversial trial.

In a significant move advocating justice and reform, nearly three dozen members of the U.S. Congress have united in a call to President Joe Biden. Their collective request? To release renowned Native American activist Leonard Peltier from prison.

Peltier, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, turned 79 on September 11. As he ages, his health deteriorates with afflictions such as diabetes, hypertension, and repeated bouts with COVID-19. Native activists made their support visible as they rallied in front of the White House on Peltier's birthday, imploring the president to intervene.

As reported by CBS News mentions that despite the activism and appeals, President Biden hasn't made a public statement concerning Peltier's case since his inauguration over two years ago. Furthermore, there hasn’t been a direct comment from the White House press office.

Backstory: The Pine Ridge Reservation Shootout

Leonard Peltier’s incarceration stems from a tragic event that unfolded in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This reservation is the home to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. On June 26, 1975, a confrontation erupted between members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. The aftermath of the confrontation was grim, with both agents losing their lives.

The FBI labeled the investigation into this incident as RESMURS, shorthand for “Reservation Murders.” Peltier was subsequently put on trial for the deaths of these agents. The trial, however, became a subject of widespread criticism. It was marked by procedural errors, constitutional violations, and a perceived lack of evidence.

Despite these concerns, Peltier was convicted in 1977 and received two life sentences for the murders of agents Coler and Williams. The conviction led to an outcry from civil rights leaders globally, including notable figures like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, and Rev. Jesse Jackson. They branded the verdict as a miscarriage of justice—one painfully familiar to Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities.

Members of Congress: A Call for Justice

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) spearheaded a bipartisan, bicameral letter, which was signed by 33 members of Congress. Addressed to President Joe Biden, this letter was crafted in anticipation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 9.

Its primary focus was to request clemency or compassionate release for Leonard Peltier, "Peltier’s case is rife with “constitutional violations and prosecutorial misconduct” that occurred not only during his trial but during the investigation into the deaths of two federal agents."

This viewpoint is also supported by various key figures who were part of Mr. Peltier’s prosecution. In recent years, they have publicly highlighted the prosecutorial misconduct and constitutional violations during the trial and investigation. The collective sentiment being expressed is the urgency to rectify a longstanding injustice.

Bipartisan Support and Its Significance

The bipartisan nature of the letter is crucial. While the majority of its signatories are Democrats, Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tennessee) stands out as the sole Republican voice advocating for Peltier's release, Yahoo reported.

This diverse support underscores the gravity and universal importance of the issue.

Lawmakers not only stressed their commitment to justice for all Americans but also highlighted the importance of holding the government accountable for potential miscarriages of justice. The prolonged incarceration of Leonard Peltier is seen as a case in point.

Lessons to learn from this tragedy

Every story carries lessons, and Peltier's situation is no different. Here are some insights and reminders derived from this saga:

  • The importance of a fair trial: Everyone deserves a fair trial. Procedural errors and lack of evidence can lead to potential miscarriages of justice, with life-altering consequences for the accused.
  • Holding systems accountable: Government agencies and judicial systems must be held accountable. Scrutiny ensures that such institutions serve justice without bias or prejudice.
  • Advocacy can drive change: Continued activism, as seen in the case of Peltier, can shed light on overlooked issues and drive change. Persistent advocacy can lead to reviews, reconsiderations, and even policy changes.
  • Compassion is vital: As a society, compassion should be at the forefront of decision-making, especially in cases involving aging prisoners with deteriorating health. Compassionate release can be a humane response in such scenarios. However, it's essential to remember that crime can happen to anyone, and victim-blaming is never the solution.

Why is Peltier's Release Important to Many?

Leonard Peltier's case symbolizes more than just one man's prolonged imprisonment. It represents the broader issues faced by Indigenous communities and marginalized groups. The alleged miscarriage of justice serves as a stark reminder of the systemic biases that can permeate the justice system. For many, advocating for Peltier’s release is a way to champion the rights of the Indigenous and to challenge the fairness of the judicial process.

Peltier's declining health adds urgency to the calls for his release. His age, combined with health challenges, places him in a vulnerable category, especially in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

For many activists, leaders, and now members of Congress, granting clemency to Peltier is not just about rectifying a potential judicial error. It is also about humanitarian considerations and a reflection of a society that values compassion and second chances.

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Written By: Rampart Stonebridge

I'm Rampart Stonebridge, a curious and passionate writer who can't get enough of true crime. As a criminal investigative journalist, I put on my detective hat, delving deep into each case to reveal the hidden truths. My mission? To share engaging stories and shed light on the complexities of our mysterious world, all while satisfying your curiosity about the intriguing realm of true crime.
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