Free Leonard Peltier!
by Spike Cohen
There's a pretty good chance you've never seen or heard of this man. His name is Leonard Peltier, and he's serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit. His story is rooted in the US government's attempt to terminate all Native American tribes.
In 1953, Congress passed a resolution calling for the termination of all Native reservations, the ending of recognition of Native tribes, and the forced relocation of Natives from their reservations, from their land that was rightfully theirs, to inner city housing projects.
In order to hasten this policy along, the government cut off all commerce and supply of food and other goods to or from the reservations. The choice the government gave the Natives was clear: move, or starve.
Let's be clear here: the horrible things that we were taught that the government did to Natives in the 1700s and 1800s, were still being done in the 1950s.
The horrible things that we were taught that the government did to Natives in the 1700s and 1800s, were still being done in the 1950s
Later court decisions would rule the termination policy illegal, as it was a blatant violation of the treaties the government had signed with the various tribes.
Leonard was an adolescent living on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa reservation during the time of termination, and it led him to become an activist and a warrior for his people.
Leonard's first battle with the government was in 1970, when he and his compatriots peacefully, and legally, took over the abandoned Fort Lawton in Washington State. Fort Lawton was on surplus federal land, which according to the law, belonged to the Natives once it had been abandoned.
The government came in heavily armed and arrested the Natives, but they had already won. The courts ruled that the takeover was perfectly legal, and Fort Lawton is now a Native cultural center.
Soon after, Leonard formed the American Indian Movement (AIM), motivated by the heroism of previous Native warriors such as Dennis Banks, John Trudell, Russell Means, Eddie Benton-Banai, and Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt.
After many more successful protests and takeovers, the FBI's COINTEL program decided to focus on AIM and Leonard, the same way it had focused on the Black Panthers and other dissident groups in the US. Soon after, in November of 1972, he was falsely accused of killing a Milwaukee police officer.
After many more successful protests and takeovers, the FBI's COINTEL program decided to focus on AIM and Leonard, the same way it had focused on the Black Panthers and other dissident groups in the US
There were many witnesses, including the officer's girlfriend, who said that Leonard was not guilty, and he was eventually acquitted, but not until after those phony charges were mentioned in another trial, in which he was falsely accused of killing two FBI officers.
The basis for Leonard's extradition from Canada back to the US for these trials was done so under false premises that included coercion of a witness.
And it gets worse from there.
FBI testimony about the events that led to Leonard’s charges contradicted each other, while other witnesses admitted to also being coerced by the FBI into giving their statements against him. Additionally, ballistics evidence that would have exonerated Leonard at the time was not allowed to be presented to the jury in the trial.
In 1993, Leonard was denied his request for parole by the US Parole Commission, but the commission later admitted that “the prosecution has conceded the lack of any direct evidence that [Leonard] personally participated in the executions of the two FBI agents."
Let me repeat that, the US Parole Commission concluded that there was no good reason for Leonard to have ever been tried, much less convicted, in the first place, but they still denied him parole, and he still sits in prison to this day.
The US Parole Commission concluded that there was no good reason for Leonard to have ever been tried, much less convicted, in the first place, but they still denied him parole
The facts of the case make it clear: Peltier never should have been imprisoned in the first place, and after spending the last 43 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
As Libertarians, we believe that, when power is concentrated into the hands of very few, it will lead to harmful, abusive, inequitable outcomes more often than not. The federal government's treatment of the Natives, which continues to this day, and the FBI COINTELPRO program to destroy the lives of anyone who dares fight back against their aggression, are perfect examples of this.
Free Leonard Peltier!