New York, NY – On Sept. 24, around 50 activist gathered in a Chinatown loft to organize, stand in solidarity and celebrate Chippewa activist and political prisoner, Leonard Peltier.
Peltier was wrongly tried and convicted for his alleged role in a fire fight that took place on the Pine Ridge Reservation, in the South Dakota, in 1975. Peltier’s case was used by the U.S. government to repress the group that Peltier was in – the American Indian Movement (AIM).
The shootout took place in the midst of a period called the Reign of Terror. It was a period in the early 1970s where over 200 AIM activists were protesting the reservation’s administration through occupation and escalation. This resulted in several events where the government used aggressive tactics to quell the movement. The shootout left one indigenous person and two FBI agents dead. After the initial trial, where two other people who were involved in the shootout were acquitted on the basis of self-defense, the U.S. government and the FBI went above and beyond to convict Peltier. His case became one of legal revenge.
From the beginning, his case was set up for a conviction. He was illegally extradited from Canada; thousands of documents were withheld during trial; there were coerced testimonies and fabricated affidavits. Don Edwards, a former FBI agent and U.S. congressman, stated, “The FBI used Mr. Peltier as a scapegoat and they continue to do so today.”
Now in prison for over 40 years, Leonard Peltier is suffering from worsening health conditions. Several organizations and indigenous nations organize daily for Peltier’s release. Their demand is that President Obama grant Peltier clemency so he can live out the rest of his days with his family.
The event was hosted by three groups: ProLibertad, NYC Free Peltier and NYC Jericho. The opening remarks were made by Frank Velgara of ProLibertad. Velgara gave a detailed background to the Peltier case and thanked the first nations for being able to host this event on their land. Velgara also masterfully drew the connections between the struggle for Puerto Rican (Boricua) liberation and the struggle of the indigenous peoples. He also drew parallels between the struggle to free Oscar Rivera Lopez and Peltier. He finished by stating how the U.S. has colonized Puerto Rico, “When the U.S. first invaded Boricua, they didn’t only stop our teachers from teaching Spanish in our schools, but took two-thirds of the nation’s arable land for the military. It was from Puerto Rican soil that the coups on Nicaragua and other Latin American countries were launched.”
Velgara was followed by a speech from Pam Africa of the International Concerned Friends & Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal. She stressed that the conditions Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners face are atrocious, stating “these political prisoners receive a cup of dirty brown water for every meager meal. 6000 other inmates receive the same thing. These are death camps. Let's not be mistaken. These prisons are death camps and all sent there have been sentenced to die.”
A performance by Spiritchild followed Pam Africa’s powerful speech. Spiritchild sang several songs of liberation, fighting back and remembering all political prisoners. In the middle of the chorus, they asked the audience to yell out names of important liberation fighters and the audience to respond “Presente!” Among those called out were Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, Nina Simone and Amiri Baraka.
Maggie from the NYC Free Peltier read parts of Peltier’s powerful statement of solidarity with Standing Rock. The Peltier quote she highlighted was, “I am grateful to have survived to see the rebirth of the united and undefeated Sioux Nation at Standing Rock in the resistance to the poisonous pipeline that threatens the life source of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. It is an honor to have been alive to see this happen with you young people. You are nothing but awesome in my eyes.”
Finally, Peter Clark, the co-director of the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee (ILPDC), gave an update of the Peltier case and how we should be organizing towards his clemency. He mentioned that Obama had met with indigenous peoples during his first and second campaigns to ask what they would like and each time one of the primary demands was the release of Peltier.
Obama has 120 days of his presidency, and the ILPDC will be ramping up pressure on the administration. This will be culminating with a week of action in December in Washington DC. Clark remarked how they faced FBI repression in the past, but how won’t stop them, “If we remember in the early 2000s we held a rally here in New York that was attended by 2500 marchers. A week later the FBI held a counter protest in Washington DC with 500 people. They had the media on their side and we didn’t. We’re going to be prepared this time. We’re going to be ready for them.”
The rest of the event was a compilation of more performances and updates on Palestinian political Prisoners. Orie Lumumba spoke on the on the MOVE 9, and the event concluded with the AIM song.
The campaign to liberate Leonard Peltier is ongoing struggle and if you want to get involved visit whoisleonardpeltier.info and lookup the national day of action occurring in December 2016 in Washington DC.