Supporters of Leonard Peltier gathered at St. Leo’s Catholic Church in Tacoma on Dec. 8 for a rally to generate support for clemency for the imprisoned Native American activist. With the recent re-election of President Barack Obama, Peltier supporters feel that between now and the inauguration in January provides an ideal time to demand his release. This event was sponsored by the Tacoma chapter of the Leonard Peltier Defense/Offense Committee (LPDOC) and co-sponsored by People for Peace, Justice and Healing. Peltier has been in a federal prison since his conviction in 1977 for the deaths of two Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents. The agents were shot on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Peltier had been living in Seattle. He went to South Dakota because of his involvement with the American Indian Movement. There had been much unrest and violence at Pine Ridge. Peltier supporters feel he was convicted of a crime he did not commit.
“Clinton was so busy exonerating his crooked friends that he did not have time to think of Leonard.” Ramona Bennett Leonard Peltier Defense/Offense Committee
“How unfair this whole process has been to Leonard,” said Ramona Bennett, a member of Puyallup Tribe and a longtime friend of Peltier. She discussed going to Kansas City to testify in an appeals hearing for Peltier. Family members of the two slain agents sat in the front row. She said they made disparaging remarks when she said positive things about Leonard Peltier. “He was an easy person to pin this on,” Bennett said. His conviction caused “an immediate outcry throughout Indian Country.” When President Bill Clinton was preparing to leave office near the end of his second term, Peltier supporters thought there was a window of opportunity for the outgoing president to order his release from prison. “Clinton was so busy exonerating his crooked friends that he did not have time to think of Leonard,” Bennett declared. She said the FBI and other law enforcement agencies will do everything they can to prevent clemency for Peltier. Bennett urged his supporters to keep up the fight. “We will keep at it. We are as stubborn and dedicated as much as they are cruel. I do not know how many more chances Leonard has. Let’s get him home, please.” Steve Hapy is a member of the Tacoma chapter of the LPDOC. He was a young child growing up in the Tacoma area when the unrest at Pine Ridge unfolded. Watching the federal government going after Indians on their own reservation on television news left a profound impact on him. He said FBI agents backed up what he described as a “vigilante goon squad” operating on Pine Ridge. “That was a terrifying time as a little kid.” Hapy said Bill Clinton ignored Leonard Peltier, but ordered the release of Puerto Rico independence activists, some who had been convicted of bank robberies and bombings. Hapy feels this was done for the political career of Hillary Clinton, who had recently been elected to represent New York in the U.S. Senate. Hapy said the federal government fabricated the ballistics evidence from the shooting scene. “It is total government malfeasance keeping him in prison.” He urged those in attendance to demand clemency. “Flood the White House with requests for executive clemency.”