Tacome WA - Over 300 People Rally for Leonard Peltier's Freedom
By Aaron Mercredi
"We don't know who killed those agents"
-Prosecutor Lynn Crooks, 1985
These words came out of a federal prosecutorís mouth during the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for Leonard Peltierís case over twenty-two years ago. It was this circuit court that found that the original judge in Peltierís trial in 1976 had made mistakes, that witnesses had been coerced, evidence fabricated, and favourable evidence had been suppressed. But, it was in this same circuit court that denied the request for an appeal for Leonardís case.
This February will make it 31 years that Leonard Peltier has been behind bars for the deaths of two FBI agents; an Indigenous warrior framed up for a crime that he did not commit, and sentenced to twice his natural life in the US prison system. A political prisoner, Leonard was thrown in jail as part of the US governmentís attempts to kill the rising militant movement of Indigenous people in 60s and 70s who were fighting for their rights; a movement that had reclaimed Alcatraz Island in 1969, fought off US Marshalls and the US military in the 79-day occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973. It was a movement which radicalized and instilled pride in young and angry Native people all over the continent and brought the realities of American colonialism to front pages and headlines all over the country. Because of this, it was a movement that threatened the American colonial establishment that had consolidated itself over hundreds of years of theft of Native land and resources, and the mass murder of Indigenous populations.
Leonardís extradition to the US from Canada in 1976 based on fabricated evidence, and the guilty verdict that relied on that same fabricated evidence in a North Dakota courtroom was part of the US governmentís strategy of putting down Indigenous resistance in the US. The most damaging
For 14 years, demonstrations have been taking place in Tacoma, Washington, on the anniversary of Leonardís imprisonment. Organized by the Tacoma Leonard Peltier Support Group, this annual action for Leonard has grown over the years and brings people from all over the US and Canada to show their solidarity with him while he endures his unjust imprisonment. On February 10th, over 300 people marched from Portland Avenue Park to federal courthouse in downtown Tacoma demanding an end to Leonardís incarceration.
The rally began with the Turtle Mountain Drummers, who drove all the way from Leonardís community in North Dakota to honour Leonardís struggle. Rob Robideau, who was a co-defendant and is a relative of Leonard, spoke next. Rob is the co-director of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee and spoke about Leonardís case in the global context of imperialist wars, relating the struggle of Indigenous people in North America to the struggle of Iraqis and Palestinians against occupation. He went on to say:
People are dying around you because of police brutality, because of the ... hunger for oil by the Bush administration. We have to wake up and we have to teach each other how to communicate to wake others up. This is our responsibility to each other as human beings.
Leonard Peltier represents the injustice this country has done against Native people. And has continued to do. We need to teach each other the reality of these injustices... Leonard Peltier, who has served 31 years in prison for an alleged offense of killing two FBI agents. The United States government has admitted in open court they do not know who killed these agents. That is not the reality of what this is all about. This is about the need for the United States government to cover up their own actions against Native people during that period of time which we call the reign of terror.
[It was a time] when the United States government, a colonial police force, entered our lands and were responsible for over 60 homicides and 300 assaults. And were responsible again [for] the... taking away of more land. One eighth of the Pine Ridge reservation was handled over to the government during this same time.
We have a right to defend our land. We have a right to defend our freedoms, whatever they may be. Do not allow them [the United States government] to criminalize your rights.
Indigenous activists and solidarity groups spoke, tying Leonardís struggle against the US colonial justice system to the struggle for immigrant rights, the struggle for workerís rights, the ongoing battle between the ruling class and Indigenous people in Oaxaca, Mexico, and to the anti-war movement. It is proof, indeed, that more people understand the broadness of the attack on Leonardís freedom, and see his fight for justice as their fight also. The annual rallies that take place in Tacoma set an example for people around the US and Canada in that the only way we can make change is by coming out to the streets.
Freedom for Leonard Peltier NOW!
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