Social Issues
A New Call Today For Native American Leonard Peltier To Be Released From Prison After 37 Years
December 14, 2012
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A concert is due to be held tonight in New York City to raise awareness about the imprisonment of Leonard Peltier.

Peltier is a leader of the American Indian movement and has served 37 years in prison for the killing of two undercover FBI agents.

The agents were killed during a shootout in 1975 on South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Peltier was implicated in the crimes but fled to Canada.

Eventually, he was arrested by the RCMP in Alberta and extradited back to the United States, where he was found guilty of the murders in 1977 and sentenced to two consecutive life terms.

Peltier has always maintained his innocence. And a number of questions have been raised about his conviction and the fairness of his trial.

No witness ever identified Peltier as the shooter. And prosecutors have since admitted they can't prove Peltier committed the crime.

There are also allegations that witnesses were coerced and threatened and that affadivits were falsified.

Peltier's supporters have filed numerous appeals calling for his release.

With this concert, they hope to convince U.S. President Barack Obama to grant Peltier clemency and order his immediate release.

'The Bring Leonard Peltier Home 2012 Concert' is taking place at The Beacon Theatre in New York.

Harry Belafonte is hosting the event, which will feature performances by Bruce Cockburn, Common, Jackson Browne, folk legend Pete Seeger (who's 93 now) and numerous Native American artists.

Speakers include Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, actor Peter Coyote, Danny Glover, Michael Moore, former Amnesty International President Jack Healey and more.

"We're hoping that Leonard will receive the freedom that he deserves, and obviously it would be great if our president can help participate in that," Common told Rolling Stone.

"Basically I have to speak up, and I feel like being an activist means also not only speaking, but being active and standing up for the struggle, and standing up for those who are being served with injustice."

Amnesty International has long considered Peltier a political prisoner and repeatedly called for his release, along with Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the late Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, 55 Members of Congress and others.

Even the Court of Appeals judge who denied Peltier a second trial in 1986 has publicly called for his clemency.

Robert Redford's 1992 documentary 'Incident at Oglala' tells Peltier's story and exposes evidence that was allegedly fabricated and suppressed.

Another supporter is Steven Van Zandt (aka 'Little Steven') of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. He can't be at tonight's concert but he has a song called "Leonard Peltier".

Peltier is 68 now and has a number of health problems. He has exhausted all appeals, so his only chance for release is through clemency.

Coyote says proceeds from tonight's show will help fund the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee, a nonprofit organization based in North Dakota.

"He's the Nelson Mandela of the Native American movement, and he's a friend of mine," Coyote says. "We have millions of people from around the world that are looking at the
United States as a beacon of human rights, and we've held this one, aging Native American, who even the government says, 'We have no idea what Mr. Peltier's involvement was.' And it's a shame on our national honor."

In the summer, Peltier wrote a letter to Coyote in which he said "Please don't let me die in here."

From prison, Peltier has kept up the fight for Native American rights and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize six times.

He's at a federal penitentiary in Florida. His release date is set for October 2040, when Peltier would be 96.

Democracy Now has a clip Peltier from an interview with a German journalist, Claus Biegert. In this clip, Peltier reads a poem he wrote in prison. You can watch it at 38:45.

There's also a film called 'Wind Chases the Sun: The Leonard Peltier Story' which includes the tag line "The imprisonment of an innocent man by the lies of a guilty government."

It includes an interview with a former guard with the Federal Bureau of Prisons named Bruce Smith, who says he knew Peltier for about 20 years.

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