Hundreds protest outside the White House on Leonard Peltier’s 79th birthday

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 3:07 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Hundreds of supporters marched to the White House Tuesday afternoon, urging President Biden to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier. In 1977, the indigenous man was convicted in the death of two FBI agents. Peltier’s supporters say Peltier isn’t responsible for their deaths.

Peltier is serving life in prison for the murder of two FBI agents during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

During Tuesday’s rally at Lafayette Park, many supporters spoke, arguing that Peltier should never have been convicted.

Nick Estes, Red Nation Organizer”His two co-defendants were found not guilty by reason of self-defense. They’re [Prosecutors] saying he was aiding and abetting a murder on Indian reservation,” said Nick Estes, an organizer for Red Nation. “So if the only two people were found of self-defense, you can’t aid and abet.”

Tuesday marked Peltier’s 79th birthday. His family hopes this will be the year he is granted clemency. Peltier’s eldest son, Chauncey says he hopes President Biden will release his father.

” He’s gone 48 years of one of the biggest rights violation cases in history and one of the longest held political prisoners and I pray that he has to strengthen the will to free Leonard,” said Chauncey Peltier.

The FBI released a statement saying they support the conviction, and do not want Peltier’s clemency to be granted.

“The FBI remains resolute against the commutation of Leonard Peltier’s sentence for murdering FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams at South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975. We must never forget or put aside that Peltier intentionally and mercilessly murdered these two young men and has never expressed remorse for his ruthless actions,” the FBI wrote in its statement. “Peltier’s conviction, rightly and fairly obtained, still stands, and has withstood numerous appeals to multiple courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. No amount of prison time changes the facts surrounding Coler and Williams’ deaths and commuting Peltier’s sentence now would only serve to diminish the brutality of his crime and the suffering of their surviving families and the FBI family.”

In the years following Peltier’s trial, supporters say many of the people involved in the case including the former U-S attorney whose office handled the case have come forward to push for Peltier’s release.

Supporters argue systemic racism is one of the reasons Peltier remains behind bars.

”You look at just even in South Dakota, natives in South Dakota make up less than 10% of the population of the whole state, but make up more than 50, 52% of all those incarcerated in the entire state,” said Nick Tilsen, the President and CEO of Indian Collective.

However, Tilsen remains optimistic, hoping this will be the year Peltier is released.

“The powers that be when, once they look at the evidence, they look at the whole cases presented to them, will make the right decision to free Leonard Peltier,” promised Tilson.

Chauncey Peltier, hoping that for his father’s 80th birthday, they can spend the day together, enjoying freedom.

”I was nine years old when my father went to prison and he don’t [sic] know me and I don’t know him. And that ain’t [six] my fault-not his fault,” Peltier said. “The injustice that’s happened to him, the rights violation of the U.S. government, their offense is the reason that this has affected my whole family.”