When will Justice Prevail? Inequities and Injustice in America: Leonard Peltier and Trayvon Martin — an Ongoing Legacy

leonard trayvon

Written July 16, 2013

The murder of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of his self-proclaimed murderer George Zimmerman has torn at the heart of America. Well, clearly not all Americans are torn; some rejoice that Mr. Zimmerman’s plea of self-defense was upheld and in that very moment the deceased victim Trayvon Martin became guilty of his own murder! Such an Absurdity! And because this is America nothing is really as simple or as it may seem to be.

America is the most racially, culturally, ethnically, religiously diverse Country in the World. This Country was built on the backs of the Black Slaves and other Racial/ Ethnic Minorities such as the Asians and Hispanics. Poor indentured White servants, along with Women and Children also played a role in the building of America. The Indigenous Populations of America were not counted at all and there was hope that they would all be exterminated or somehow magically disappear. The “founding fathers” of the United States of America were White Christian Men of means – meaning they had wealth and with that, power. The formation of Democracy and the Constitution of the United States was formulated for and by the White Christian Men of means. Entitlement of the elite was a major piece of the foundation that is America. Contrary to belief Democracy was not an American concept; it was first conceived by the Greeks long before Christianity found its way into the world. In America our “fore-fathers” created the Constitution of the United States from the democratic governing principles of The Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) of North America. The Iroquois have been Indigenous to North America since Humans began to populate this part of the World. Accordingly the Constitution-makers forming the United States of America’s Constitution did not follow verbatim the governing practices of the Haudenosaunee People, whose democratic principles included Rights for Women, Children, Animals, Plant Life, and the Mother{Earth} Herself.

The concept of Equality in the United States as been just that, a concept that has never come to fruition for all the People who live within its borders. Most assuredly some things have changed through the years as economics have called for change…and with economic change some people were granted more legal and civil rights; still, it has always been about the wealth and power. Without the people to work the farms, mills, factories, stores, etc. or provide services such as healthcare, schooling, grooming, etc. how would the elite live? Begrudgingly the disenfranchised got a little piece of the American pie; some were able to flourish and make their piece-of-pie grow depending on the wants and needs of those who manipulated the purse strings. During harsh times, the big pie shrank and became mere crumbs for a majority of Americans. When there is scarcity of resources or needs, there are more laws enacted to preserve the rights of the White elite, there is more civil unrest, more crime as neighbor goes against neighbor and an insidious entrenched fear encompasses all.

How does all of this pertain to Leonard Peltier? Native Americans have been victims of genocide, forced enculturation and assimilation since the White man first set foot on American soil. Laws that were enacted for “the people” in the United States did not include Indians because they were not a part of the United States; they were considered foreign and insignificant.  For that reason treaties between the Sovereign Nations and the United States were not adhered to by the United States even though these Sovereign Nations exist within the borders of The United States. Native Americans have been forced into Reservations that are akin to 4th World Nations. These reservations were created on land thought to be barren. When minerals and oil were discovered the Government did what they could to eradicate the People of the land. The persistent and deeply-root thought that Indians were expendable has been so pervasively malignant and insidious that some Native Americans have also believed this about themselves. Through numerous acts of war upon the Indigenous Peoples of America, they have lived with poor resources, illness, murder, rape, abduction of children and more. The Native American population has always been on the bottom of the proverbial totem pool; they are an endangered population. In 1975 Native American Leonard Peltier answered a call for help from the Oglala Sioux Nation on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. He and other members of the American Indian Movement landed in the middle of a botched land-grab initiated by the United States government. During this “reign of terror” two FBI agents were slain and though there has never been any real actual or substantial evidence that links Leonard Peltier to these murders he was nonetheless charged and found guilty of these murders. Discoveries through the Freedom of Information Act and those involved during these times found serious fraud, deceit, and tampering in Mr. Peltier’s case starting with his illegal extradition from Canada through his arrest, trial, appeals and more. For people who believe that the United States Justice System is infallible, one only needs to delve into the case of Leonard Peltier. Indeed his constitutional, treaty, civil, and human rights have been violated continuously with no redress. Leonard Peltier is now 68 years old with serious health issues and needs. The only way Leonard gets to leave prison is through executive clemency or death. Because he is a federal prisoner the only one who can grant him executive clemency is the President of the United States of America. Supporters have tried through various means to plead for his Freedom from Gerald Ford to Barack Obama; it has not yet come. No president thus far has been willing to admit to Leonard Peltier’s wrongful imprisonment or the culpability of the United States in this ongoing miscarriage of justice.

Trayvon Martin a young African-American man who met his death in 2012 at 17 years of age has become a strong symbol of the continued racial inequities in America. He is sadly one of too many who have lost their lives to needless violence since the first Africans were brought over to America in chains. Slavery was a driving force in the economic boon in America. There were slaves throughout the United States with the largest concentration in the Southern States. Africans and their descendants were considered property at one time and this was written into the laws of the land. The three-fifths compromise did not count slaves to be a whole person, thus robbing them of their humanity. Families were torn apart as mothers, fathers, and children could be sold off at the whims of their Slave Owners. After the American Civil War, racial disparities continued. Negroes, Coloreds, African Americans, Blacks – by any named assigned were always considered less than and segregation and degradation was the landscape of America. Things improved after the Civil Rights Movement; however African Americans have always been feared, especially African American males. This malignant fear was so insidious that all races, cultures, and ethnic groups believed in this fear of the Black male – including African American males themselves.  Lynching was an oddly common occurrence; especially in Southern and Western States. Although individuals of all racial denominations were lynched for crimes such as murders, Blacks were by-and-large lynched more for non-capital offenses such as suspected stealing or looking at a white woman. In today’s penal system per demographics, Black prisoners outnumber White prisoners. For crimes committed whether capital crimes such as murder or non-capital crimes such as theft-without-a-weapon Blacks are given longer prison terms than their White counterparts. Whether for Federal or State crimes the statistics bear out. African Americans have always been the first suspects to be considered for any crime if they were within the vicinity of said crime. “Innocent until proven guilty” has never been assigned to them; instead it has been “guilty until proven innocent” and this holds especially true for Black males. When America’s first Black President (anyone who has any percentage of Negro blood is considered to be a part of that race as so stated in the “one drop rule” which was actually a law and its ramifications still exist today) was inaugurated some felt that meant that the United States became “post racial”. That has been a fallacy. The truth is Racism has never left; if anything it has become more virulent and practiced with more fervor by the White elite who fear losing power. The Supreme Court’s ruling to repeal the Voting Rights Act is proof positive.

In the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, Mr. Zimmerman himself expressed fear of Mr. Martin as he suspected by his appearance that he was up to no good. Mr. Zimmerman chose to follow Mr. Martin although the 911 operator told him not to. With the set of facts as they are and the admission of George Zimmerman to the slaying of Trayvon Martin individuals interpreted facts with bias. Some say that due to this particular self-defense law in Florida there was no other way than to assign innocence to George Zimmerman. There is something that claws at the gut that is so wrong. By releasing George Zimmerman of any culpability, Trayvon Martin has been assigned guilt in his own murder. We have seen in the case of Leonard Peltier that malfeasance by a number of individuals involved have kept a man wrongfully incarcerated for more than half his life. We know that agencies and individuals will do all they can to keep Leonard Peltier imprisoned rather than admit to the wrongful acts by the federal government who broke their own laws in pursuit of him. In the State of Florida we are now seeing that individuals are interpreting their laws to meet their needs and make the victim of a heinous crime responsible for his own death. Although many may not see the similarities on the surface between the cases of Leonard Peltier and Trayvon Martin, they are glaring examples of the Social and Legal racial disparities that have existed within the United States of America since its very inception. An aging wrongly incarcerated Native American man and a young murdered African American man, both ensnared by the Injustice that is America  — when will Justice prevail for Leonard Peltier and Trayvon Martin?

written by Bonnie F. Walker, RN, BS, LNC

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I am everyone who ever died without a voice or a prayer or a hope or a chance…Everyone who ever suffered for being an Indian, for being human, for being indigenous, for being free, for being Other, for being committed…. I am every one of them. Every single one. Yes. Even you. I am everyone”. – Leonard Peltier

 

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