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Written by Jessica Engelking and graphics by Tobias-Ana Soudaly-Espinosa

On Monday, June 10th, Leonard Peltier (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) had his first parole hearing in 15 years. He is currently serving a life sentence for the1975 killing of two FBI agents in a shootout between the American Indian Movement (AIM) and federal agents. This shootout came after a months-long standoff between AIM and the federal agents at Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge reservation. He was found guilty in a trial riddled with misconduct and has spent almost 50 years imprisoned. At his last parole hearing, he was offered parole if he would say that he killed the FBI agents, but he refused to do so. Currently, the parole board has until July 1st to issue a ruling. Please join us in calling for the humanitarian release of Leonard Peltier. He is an elder in poor health who should be allowed to be with his community for his final days. We pray that the parole board act justly, but if parole is denied, there is still a petition for clemency pending before President Biden. 

We’d be remiss if we didn’t address the controversy surrounding Leonard Pelter for his implication in the 1975 murder of fellow AIM member Anna Mae Aquash. As an organization deeply engaged in ending the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR) crisis, we would never want to cause harm to the loved ones of a victim of the crisis. But Peltier is not imprisoned for involvement in Aquash’s murder. His imprisonment for the murders of FBI agents does not address the immense harm caused by the murder of Anna Mae. If he was involved in the murder of Aquash, he ought to be held accountable for the harm he has caused. This current imprisonment, however, is unjust and we are committed to advocating for justice. Leonard Peltier did not receive a fair trial and he should not be in prison.

In addition to joining the growing call to #FreeLeonard, we urge you to take some time and really examine your beliefs about justice. There are a lot of different ideas about what justice looks like. For example, the people arguing against granting Peltier parole claim that releasing him would be an injustice. They believe that justice is the result of punishing people for their crimes. This is a pretty easy idea to grasp–that if people do bad things they should be punished. If you commit a crime, you get sentenced with a punishment and justice is served. But try to imagine if there are ways to make things even more just than by punishing people. Imagine Chad breaks into Brad’s house and steals some money. If Chad goes to jail for 5 years, does it make the situation better? What would be the best thing that could happen for Brad? Brad could get his money back and the damage to his house repaired. Imagining even better, that Brad’s neighbors come over and offer to help make some updates to his house, and offer to listen if Brad wants to talk about his experience. The situation of the break-in was restored to as it was when what’s stolen was returned and what was broken was fixed. The situation was transformed into something better with community support. When we think of the ways to right a wrong, punishing the wrongdoer does not do as much as addressing the harm that was caused. 

It’s very important to the prison-industrial complex that we buy into the idea that punishment brings justice. If someone is punished by being sent to prison, that person can then be forced to provide labor for pennies. We never really fully ended slavery. The 13th Amendment has a loophole that abolished slavery, except for as punishment for crime. Slavery continued, we just call the enslaved people “prisoners” so it’s legal. The argument that paroling Peltier would be an injustice assumes that when punishment is stopped or denied, an injustice has occurred. But punishment doesn’t make justice, punishment makes prisoners. Keeping a sick elder in prison for a wrongfully convicted crime isn’t justice.

Please continue to advocate for justice for Leonard Peltier. This horrific injustice in keeping a person wrongfully imprisoned for almost 50 years is one of the many examples that support the need for prison abolition.

Here are some petitions:


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