The Democratic National Committee on Saturday voted unanimously to pass a resolution urging President Joe Biden to release activist Leonard Peltier from prison ― a sign of the growing momentum to remedy what many consider a decadeslong stain on the nation’s criminal justice system.
DNC members passed the measure on a voice vote, calling on Biden to grant clemency to Peltier. The measure was part of a package of resolutions that sailed through during a DNC general session.
Peltier, an Indigenous rights activist, has been in prison for 46 years following the 1975 murder of two FBI agents during a shoot-out on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This is despite no evidence he committed a crime, a trial riddled with misconduct and a parole process so problematic that United Nations legal experts recently called on Biden to release him immediately.
The DNC resolution states that Peltier, now 77, is an ideal candidate for leniency “given the overwhelming support for clemency, the constitutional due process issues underlying Mr. Peltier’s prosecution, his status as an elderly inmate, and that he is an American Indian, who suffer from greater rates of health disparities and severe underlying health conditions.”
It concludes: “It is highly appropriate that consideration of clemency for Mr. Peltier be prioritized and expedited, so that Mr. Peltier can return to his family and live his final years among his people.”
Here’s a full copy of the text:
North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Anna Buffalo (D), a member of the DNC Executive Committee and one of the people behind the resolution, said she feels nothing but gratitude to see it pass with unanimous support.
“We thank the Democratic Party for standing with justice,” she told HuffPost.
“My 19-year-old daughter continues to encourage me to push harder and to work harder for our elder Leonard Peltier’s release, who is a survivor of Federal Indian Boarding School,” Buffalo said. “Our next generation is watching and sees this injustice. We cannot give up on releasing Peltier, a political prisoner.”
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether Biden is aware of the DNC resolution, or whether he is considering granting clemency for the activist.
Leonard Peltier’s prolonged imprisonment is “arbitrary” and the U.S. government should release him immediately, United Nations legal experts recently wrote in a damning opinion.
Peltier is considered by many to be America’s longest-serving political prisoner. Advocates for his release have raised several problems with his trial, citing blatant 1970s-era racism against Indigenous people, his co-defendants’ acquittal on grounds of self-defense, and details that suggest the FBI bore at least partial responsibility for the shoot-out that took place that day.
A former U.S. prosecutor who helped put Peltier in jail has since described his trial as flawed and last year pleaded with Biden to grant him clemency. Members of Congress have similarly requested that he be set free, and in recent months, four U.S. senators separately called on the president to release Peltier: Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
Peltier’s case has long sparked outcry from the Indigenous community, celebrities and international human rights leaders, including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Coretta Scott King and Amnesty International USA.
His supporters feel a renewed sense of hope with Biden in the White House, given that he has already demonstrated a willingness to address past injustices against Native Americans. Among other things, Biden has made it a priority to examine the government’s ugly history of Indian boarding schools, to protect sacred Indigenous sites and cultural resources, and to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Biden also chose Deb Haaland to lead his Interior Department, making her the nation’s first-ever Indigenous cabinet secretary. Haaland strongly advocated for Peltier’s release from prison in her former role as a congresswoman.
The new DNC resolution comes after leaders of the DNC’s Native American Caucus, including Buffalo, issued a statement earlier this year calling Peltier’s imprisonment “one of the great miscarriages of justice in modern history.”