Billboards and protesters in Rapid City have been calling for the release of Leonard Peltier. Who is Peltier and why do people consider him important?
Calls for the release of 77-year-old Leonard Peltier are making an impact once again in the Native community. Peltier, who was convicted for the deaths of FBI agents Ronald Williams and Jack Coler in a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Reservation, has been the topic of conversation lately following the news that he tested positive for Covid-19.
Forty-six years have gone by since his imprisonment, and for 46 years many have protested his conviction. Groups like the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee have rallied in Rapid City, further pushing their message: Free Leonard Peltier. A member of AIM (American Indian Movement, a group whose plan is to address systemic issues of poverty, discrimination, and police brutality against Native Americans), Peltier has made an impact within Native rights and is considered a warrior for Native American people in the U.S.
“It has been a long fight for his freedom, and a long fight for [the Native community] trying to prove that there is inequality when looking at the police, the government, and our people,” says Jada Brown, a local activist and advocate for Native justice.
Leonard is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida. President Joe Biden has been contacted in hopes he would grant Peltier’s immediate release in light of Peltier’s health issues and now, Covid-19. In Peltier’s memoir Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance, he writes about his conviction and the story of it, admitting he was a part of the shootout, but saying he did not kill the FBI agents.
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