'Please Do What Is Right': Native American Lawmakers Urge Biden To Free Leonard Peltier

The ailing Indigenous rights activist, who is 77, "deserves to live his final years among his people," say dozens of Native state legislators.
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Leaders of the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators wrote to President Joe Biden on Monday urging him to release Leonard Peltier from prison, warning that the 77-year-old Indigenous rights activist is in poor health and deserves ”to live his final years among his people in dignity.”

“Mr. President, please do what is right,” reads the message from New Mexico state Sen. Benny Shendo (D) and North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Buffalo (D), the chair and vice-chair of the caucus, respectively. The caucus represents 89 Native American state legislators from 21 states.

“Amid our country’s racial reckoning after George Floyd’s murder, Native Americans have not yet been included in any promise of federal justice reform. Your clemency towards Mr. Peltier would change that,” Shendo and Buffalo wrote. “His expected release would sound as a promise to the first peoples of these lands that we too enjoy America’s promise of justice for all.”

“Our communities have suffered enough,” they added. “Please prioritize equity.”

Peltier has been in prison for 45 years without any evidence that he committed a crime. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office charged him with the 1975 murders of two FBI agents during a shootout on a Native American reservation ― something Peltier has long said he didn’t do, even when taking responsibility for the killings could have meant parole for him. His trial was riddled with misconduct, and even the U.S. attorney who helped put Peltier in prison decades ago is now pleading with Biden to grant him clemency because, he says, federal officials never had evidence that he committed a crime.

On Friday, Peltier tested positive for COVID-19. He is currently in quarantine.

His COVID status has only intensified the calls from supporters and elected officials to let him go home. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, last week urged Biden to commute Peltier’s sentence given his age, illness and time served. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the former longtime chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the longest-serving member of the Senate, has also called on Biden to send Peltier home.

Actor Danny DeVito on Monday joined the calls for Peltier’s release.

“President Joe Biden. Please let Leonard Pleltier [sic] go. You can do it man. Pick up that pen,” he tweeted.

Peltier told HuffPost last week that his prison facility’s prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns, and its failure to provide booster shots to inmates, have left him ― and likely others ― unbearably isolated and preparing for death. He is particularly vulnerable to COVID’s effects given his existing serious health problems, including diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“I’m in hell,” he said, days before his COVID diagnosis. “Left alone and without attention is like a torture chamber for the sick and old.”

Buffalo said Tuesday that members of her caucus “understand fully the sense of urgency” in protecting elderly loved ones from COVID, particularly if they are in prison. Native Americans are more than twice as likely to die from COVID as white Americans, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are incarcerated at a much higher rate than the national average.

“Add inhumane living conditions, and prison guards who don’t follow CDC guidelines, [and] it is a recipe for disaster,” Buffalo told HuffPost. “Even if Mr. Peltier had not been convicted under contested circumstances, his advanced age, ill health and the amount of time he’s served ought to be enough to reconsider his circumstances. We are beyond the stage of making an example, and sheer human compassion and clemency urgently needs to be considered.”

Here’s a copy of the letter to Biden from the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators:

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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