President Joe Biden is now facing pressure from within the Democratic National Committee to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, the 77-year-old Indigenous rights activist who has served 46 years in prison despite no evidence that he committed a crime.
“The continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier, a citizen of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, is one of the great miscarriages of justice in modern history,” the leaders of the DNC’s Native American Caucus said in a statement released late Wednesday.
“We join the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators and the National Congress of American Indians in urging President Biden to immediately grant Mr. Peltier clemency and release,” they said. “It is a matter of justice and compassion. It is time for our relative and elder, Mr. Peltier, to live out his final days among his people.”
The statement is signed by the DNC caucus’ chair, Clara Pratte, its vice chair, Rion Ramirez, and its secretary/treasurer, Ruth Anna Buffalo.
“We decided to put this out now as we believe as a caucus that the time grows more urgent for Mr. Peltier,” Pratte told HuffPost.
The caucus didn’t get a sign-off from top DNC leaders before releasing its statement, said Pratte, but that was largely due to timing. The caucus is aiming for “a formal full DNC resolution” by its next meeting, she said.
Here’s a copy of the caucus’ full statement:
Peltier has been in prison ever since the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged him with the murders of two FBI agents during a 1975 shoot-out on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He has maintained his innocence the entire time ― even when it’s meant he could have been paroled if he’d said he had committed the crime.
His trial was riddled with misconduct, and even the U.S. attorney who helped put Peltier in prison so many years ago is now pleading with Biden to grant him clemency because, he said, federal officials never had evidence that Peltier committed a crime.
There’s been a recent surge in momentum for releasing Peltier, in part because Biden is a proud ally to the Native American community ― and Native Americans were key to helping him win his election. One of Biden’s own Cabinet secretaries, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, previously backed clemency for Peltier.
Biden is also likely Peltier’s last chance at freedom before he dies in prison: At 77, he just survived a vicious bout with COVID-19 and has serious health issues including diabetes and an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
In addition to the serious problems with Peltier’s conviction, it’s not clear why he hasn’t been sent home under a policy authorized by the Justice Department “to release elderly inmates and those with underlying health conditions from federal prisons” as part of the government’s response to the COVID pandemic.
When HuffPost asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons about this last month, spokesperson Randilee Giamusso simply responded with boilerplate language about how that policy works.
“Beyond this, we have no additional information to provide,” she said.
A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about the DNC’s Native American Caucus leaders urging clemency for Peltier.