September 2017 marked Leonard Peltier’s 73rd birthday and 42nd year in prison. He is currently held in a high security federal prison in Coleman, Florida –as far as possible in the continental US from any family or community. Peltier has been seriously ill with diabetes and other medical conditions for the past 15 years. In 2016, as Barak Obama was engaging in an exercise commonly conducted by US presidents as their term in office ended, dozens of officials, human rights activists, religious leaders and community members petitioned him to grant Peltier clemency so he could finally leave prison.
Peltier’s 1977 conviction of murdering two FBI agents has since been seen as a miscarriage of justice. James Reynolds, the US Attorney who was a lead prosecutor in Peltier’s trial wrote in the Chicago Tribune arguing in favor of clemency that “although no trial is perfect, Peltier’s was unusually troublesome… it was a very thin case that likely would not be upheld by courts today.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights in supporting the clemency application detailed Peltier’s exemplary conduct in prison and humanitarian work that had brought him recognition and awards over the years. But in the end the CCR focused on prison policy norms, arguing that principles of compassionate release should apply. They cited AG Eric Holder’s support for compassionate release of elderly prisoners who had served significant parts of their sentence and do not pose a danger to the community, as well as international protocols that call for consideration of age and health in deciding on release.
None of this availed in the face of – what could only have been Obama’s fear of backlash from the FBI and others for whom Peltier was no longer a distinct individual but a symbol of defiance: Peltier has always maintained that he did not kill the FBI agents. Prosecutors even in court conceded the lack of direct evidence that Peltier participated in the killings – and those who condemn Peltier don’t argue the point. Maybe he was not the one who shot them, but Peltier was convicted of murder—fd”?BN nm and keeping Peltier behind bars forever is payback for two dead FBI officers.
Sustenance: A poem for Leonard Peltier
All you wanted was to feed
The People, and a hunger entered
your Spirit. All you wanted
was to end the pain, and the pain
of your Sundance entered your heart.
“Where are our warriors?” a Grandmother
asked and the small boy in you rose up,
a sweet smoke offering. You gave
your life, but all you wanted was life
on Earth for all your starving relations.
You spoke for the young as a young man
and your Spirit-Song answered. You stoked
the fire for The Elders, until now, an Elder,
you fan the flames of Freedom in our lifetime,
keeping the fire of all our dishonored treaties.
You studied Liberty while they waged war
upon us, and upon those who looked like us,
the flower of your Spirit opening to let us all
inside your cell. You wanted the many colors of
the Rainbow, your warrior-Spirit becoming you.
You gave us your life, your words,
your Rainbow on the whitened page.
You fed us all. They locked up your Light
but not your fire. It blazes like sage, smolders
in the concha, the smoky prayer of your resistance.
All you wanted was to feed, to end the hunger—
of the flesh, of the the Spirit, of conscience.
Now, with starvation all around, a mold that
just won’t wash, you feed us, The People, with
your fasting, your writing, your glowing example.
Here, in this sacred circle of Earth, fed by
the Sundance that is you, may you walk
and love among us once again, telling
the Truth of the Old Ones, of the ones not yet
born. We are fighting for your freedom still.
Well fed by you, we know,
we tell, and we demand:
Free Leonard now!
Free Leonard now!
Free Leonard now!
Lorna Dee Cervantes
Sept. 12, 2010
for Leonard Peltier’s 66th birthday
and for peace with dignity and justice