NYC: 2500 March for Leonard Peltier

Revolutionary Worker #1084, December 24, 2000, posted at

"Greetings friends and supporters: It pleases me to know that so many of you have gathered here to support this walk for justice on my behalf. I want you to know that deep down in my heart I will always be grateful to you. If I am freed, you will be the first who I go to-to thank because you are the ones who have worked and sacrificed so much of your lives to support me and my people for what has been 25 long years.... I want you to know if my freedom is denied, I will not give up my fight. I won't give up because I am an innocent man. I cannot give up and accept a fate that is wrong. I will continue to fight for justice until I am free or until I leave the prison in a pine box. I will not surrender."

Excerpt from a letter to the December 10 march by Leonard Peltier


If Leonard Peltier is not freed by February, he will have spent 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Leonard Peltier was framed by the U.S. government for the murder of two FBI agents who attacked an American Indian Movement (AIM) camp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1975. Peltier and other Native people were in the camp helping to protect people on the reservation from what has become known as the "Reign of Terror." 64 AIM members and supporters were murdered during this campaign, launched by the U.S. government and led by the FBI. The Reign of Terror and the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier were punishment for the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee-during which hundreds of Indian people and their supporters stood up, guns in hand, against the U.S. government-backed murder and intimidation of AIM supporters and traditionals.

On December 10, 2,500 people marched through the streets of New York City to the UN to demand Leonard Peltier be released. The march was led by a contingent of Native people from Pine Ridge. Hundreds of other Native people from all over the country took part. Diverse forces active in different political movements also represented, including activists against the death penalty, members of ACT-UP, and students. There were banners from supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality.

The demand for Leonard's release took on greater urgency because many people believe he could die in prison. He has diabetes, a heart condition and high blood pressure as a result of poor medical care. All of Leonard's appeals have been denied. Many people are demanding that President Clinton grant Leonard executive clemency before he leaves office.

At the rally, Leonard's daughter Kathy stood with her children Cyrus and Alexandra by her side and said, "I was nine months old when I first saw my father behind prison bars. It's time that my father come out here and live with his kids and his grandkids. His grandkids are already growing up so fast.... For the past 25 years I've been dreaming and hoping for the day that he would be out-to be among us-to speak to you all and to celebrate his time with you."

One of the most powerful moments of the day was when survivors of the Reign of Terror stepped onto the stage. They were introduced by Leonard himself-through a letter he had written that was read by Jean Day, an AIM activist who also survived the Reign of Terror: "Some have dodged bullets. Some have buried their loved ones. Some were completely terrorized and yet they are still here today and they are still here standing up for me. I would like to bring these women and men onto stage so that you can see them and listen to what they have to say. Please give them a loud round of applause and honor them on my behalf. They, too, have not surrendered."

Edgar Bear Runner thanked Leonard for answering the call to defend the people at Pine Ridge: "The FBI put us in a state of fear. The FBI turned Indians against Indians. The FBI lied, tortured, imprisoned Native people.... The government stole additional lands from the Oglala Lakota people. During the period of the assault on the Jumping Bull compound, our tribal chairman was signing away 133,000 acres of land rich in uranium, oil and gas."

Many other Native people also spoke. John Trudell, who was an AIM leader at the time of the shootout, said: "Leonard has committed no crime. But there were crimes committed on the Pine Ridge Reservation and I think that the truth about what went on in Pine Ridge needs to be made public....You cannot give Leonard the years he has been locked up. You cannot give them back to him. [Releasing Leonard] is not about justice -it's about doing what is right."

The Colorado Sisters did a humorous anti-imperialist spoken word performance. Native youth from Long Island performed a traditional dance accompanied by the young Redhawk Singers on the drums. One of the drummers told the RW: "Leonard Peltier is somebody that we know is wrongly imprisoned. We have songs that are written just for him that we sing. He means a lot to our people and his freedom means a lot to our people."

System of Injustice

"This great gathering has come together on the 52nd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to demand an end to the greatest violation of human rights in the last 500 years and that's the European genocide against the Native peoples of the Western Hemisphere that continues to this moment."

Ramsey Clark, lead attorney for
Leonard Peltier, former U.S. Attorney General

"Even the U.S. Attorney admits again and again that no one knows who killed the agents. No one knows who fired the fatal shots. So why has Leonard been in prison for 25 years?"

Jennifer Harbury, attorney
for Leonard Peltier

The fact that Peltier has been imprisoned for 25 years even though the government knows he is innocent drew many to the rally. Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International, said: "We've seen too many innocent people who've been sentenced for crimes they didn't commit-even sentenced to death-only later to be found innocent. The pattern we've seen in other cases-cases like Geronimo Pratt, who was also imprisoned for 25 years for a crime he didn't commit-that pattern is also evident in Leonard's case. Enough is enough! Not one day longer!"

Author Alice Walker received a warm round of applause: "I think it's the most amazing thing that this man has managed to do more with his life while in prison than many of us do with our lives outside of prison. This is an astonishing feat. I have been reading his book-he has turned into a writer. I have been looking at his paintings-he has turned into an artist. He helps poor people. He helps children. He helps battered women.... As Mumia was quoted earlier as saying, the judicial system as we know it should be destroyed. It doesn't work. It is unfair."

Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine called Leonard's case "one of the worst injustices I've personally ever witnessed." Peter Mathiessen, author of the once banned, then best-selling book In the Spirit of Crazy Horse-which documents the frame-up of Peltier-announced a film would soon be released based on his book. Other speakers included former Rev. Michael Yasutake of the National Council of Churches; former Black Panther Kathleen Cleaver; Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; and Irish author Don Mullen, a survivor of the Bloody Sunday massacre. Members of an International Delegation demanded freedom for Leonard and Mumia.

Leonard Peltier has repeatedly called on his supporters to join the struggle to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Throughout the day many people drew links between the two cases. Many youth also drew links between Leonard, Mumia and the police brutality they face every day.

The rally ended with a song on the drum-"The Honor Song of Gwarth-ee-lass"-dedicated to Leonard Peltier and the survivors of Wounded Knee, the American Indian Movement and all their families. Gwarth-ee-lass is Leonard's Indian name and means "to bring the people together." Pointing to the significance of the day's action, as well as the rally in Harlem for Mumia the day before, Jean Day said: "That is what Leonard has done today. And that is what Mumia did yesterday. We have joined in solidarity with the African-Americans, with the other two colors of people, the non-Natives-the white people-and the Asians. We are now the four colors of people...once our voices join together Leonard Peltier will be free!"

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