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Leonard peltier essay

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Leonard peltier essay

The existence of martyrs has a profound effect on the people who know them, and on those who feel them to be symbols of grand injustices. A martyr is all it may take to radicalize a movement and to push otherwise peaceful people into violence. A martyr in the making is a man named Leonard Peltier. He is known to the MTV generation as the subject of a Rage Against the Machine video. But to Native Americans, Peltier has long stood as symbol that there is no equitable treatment of American Indians in the American judicial system. Peltier, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, is serving his eighteenth year in a Levenworth, Kansas, federal prison for murdering two FBI agents. He and his defenders claim that they are innocent, and that they have the ballistics tests to prove it. They say they can also prove that there was immoral and illegal conduct on the part of the FBI during Peltier's trial those eighteen long years ago.

On June 26, 1975, two FBI agents entered the Pine Ridge Reservation without proper jurisdiction in order to arrest Jimmy Eagle, who was charged with stealing a pair of cowboy boots. For reasons that are currently unclear, a gunfight broke out, and the FBI agents were killed along with one Native American. Within a half an hour the farm where the fight had taken place was overrun with 200 FBI agents and federal police. The gunmen fled into the reservation. Convinced that he would not receive a fair trial in the United States, Peltier hid in Canada. In order to extradite him, the FBI produced an affidavit from Myrtle Pooh Bear, who had supposedly witnessed the killing. She later said that she was not at Pine Ridge the day of shooting, and that she was coerced into writing the false affidavit. Furthermore, according to FBI documents released under

The Freedom of Information Act, the FBI had withheld from the defense the fact that none of the bullets, which had killed the officers, could be traced to Peltier's gun. This key fact would have proved his innocence, but because of the suppression of this evidence Peltier was found guilty of double homicide.

Peltier's case has drawn national attention, and responses to the situation demonstrate that there is more than one approach to racial justice. The mainstream demand is that our society transcend race in the service of legal justice. Less common is the often divisive, arguably unproductive call for racial guilt and the primacy of group affiliation. The supporters of Peltier's case who have spearheaded attempts to free him have come largely from the latter category. They have used Peltier as their martyr, and as justification for distrusting white-dominated legal proceedings.

Earlier this year, a group called the "Walk For Justice" tried to reintroduce Peltier's case to the public in an attempt to get a presidential pardon, or at the very least to convince Attorney General Janet Reno to re-open the case in light of the evidence

of FBI misconduct. Since the Supreme Court has denied an appeal, the case remains officially closed. These protesters are not the only ones who believe that an innocent man is in prison. Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell, John McCain, and Daniel Inouye, who all sit on the Select Committee for Indian Affairs, have written to Reno to request a new examination. Peltier remains the only person on Amnesty International's list of American political prisoners. The FBI opposes reopening the case.

The Walk For Justice started in February at Alcatraz Island. After winding its way across 20 states and 3,800 miles, the walk ended in a Senate caucus room. The group had come to address members of Congress about a number of Native American rights issues: the ecological damage caused by nuclear waste on Indian lands, the use of racial stereotypes in sports team logos, the infringement of hunting rights, treatment of sacred sites to which Native Americans have been denied access, and discrimination against Native American prisoners. The walkers also intended to present petitions representing five hundred thousand names to liaisons from the White House. Only two Senators showed up, each for half an hour, and no White House representative ever appeared. The speakers decided to continue their five-hour presentation to the press and Senate staffers.

The pain in the voices of the speakers was apparent, but the absence of an audience seemed to make a mockery of all the efforts to free Peltier. As the afternoon wore on, hope of freeing Peltier was crushed. Slowly, the protesters' accusations became less precise and less selective. By the end of the talk, many of the speakers ...

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