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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/2/16

Wanna-Be Presidential Assassin Hinkley Goes Free, Leonard Peltier Left to Rot and Die in Prison

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Leonard Peltier ...

AIM founder Bill Means talks about our racist double standard

Once again, the bold expression of American racism and the racist double standard of the U.S. justice system send shock waves through the Native American community. In early August, John Hinckley Jr., who came an inch or two away from assassinating President Ronald Reagan and his press secretary, James Brady, was released in an act of mercy, so that the man who managed to put a few bullets in the beloved 40th president of the United States was able to return home to his mother, now terminally ill and dying, according to public reports.

"I'm very glad this happened after Mrs. Reagan passed on," said Ed Rollins, campaign manager for Reagan's re-election bid in 1984. Rollins suggested that Nancy Reagan might have been a little bit upset had she learned that the person who nearly killed her husband, and devastated -- left wounded for life -- his former press secretary, was shown mercy by the Obama Justice Department.

Upset would definitely not cut it when it comes to the outrage native leaders in the U.S. have expressed about the treatment of Leonard Peltier, whose health is failing. I spoke to Bill Means about the mercy granted Hinckley and the dual standard of justice when it comes to Native Americans, like Peltier, who has now spent over 40 years in jail based on what many feel was a travesty of justice -- a trial wrought with injustice, fatal breaches of his civil rights, false testimony, and massive intimidation of witnesses brought forth by the defense.

"They said Orlando was the largest massacre in the history of the United States," Means told me in a recent radio interview. "That shows you how much the Americans have forgotten about their own history, that we have had countless massacres, including Sand Creek, including Wounded Knee."

Bill Means is a co-founder of the American Indian Movement, also known as AIM, and sits on the board of the American Indian Treaty Council. Dennis Bernstein spoke with Means in Rosebud, South Dakota.

Dennis Bernstein: Welcome back to Flashpoints, Bill Means. Well, John Hinckley Jr. is free to go, and Leonard Peltier is still being tortured. Double standard?

Bill Means: Yes! This is a clear example of the dual standard of justice when it comes to American Indians versus non-Indian people. And here we have a man, Hinckley, who was an obvious attempted assassin: they caught him in the act. And we have the contrast of Leonard Peltier, who has been in prison 40 years, 10 more years than Hinckley, and they've never convicted him of the actual shooting. He was convicted of aiding and abetting. The FBI admitted in court that they don't know who shot the FBI agents.

So we have this type of evidence that continues to burn the conscience of the justice system of America where it says that all people have equal access to due process, etc. However, we see a man like Hinckley who actually shot a president -- I don't know if you could put a price on a president versus two FBI agents -- but first of all you have to realize the circumstances of Peltier not being convicted of actually shooting the agents. The evidence itself in the two cases is totally opposite, in terms of the shooter and the conviction of the shooter. We have Leonard Peltier sitting in jail for 40 years, for a crime he didn't commit, and we have Hinckley, who shot a president of the United States plus his press secretary by the name of Brady, I believe, who has been in a wheelchair since that time. Also, we have the only substantial firearms reform law, called the Brady Bill, as a result of the shootings. The after-effects even touched something that all our school shootings, or assassinations, or various types of gun violence hasn't affected, because of the tremendous lobbying power of the NRA. And here we have the Brady Bill, which stands as a living monument to Brady, the press secretary of Reagan who was shot. So you have all these extenuating circumstances which show again the racism and the double standard of justice when it applies to American Indian prisoners.

DB: We also have to say a word or two about how unbelievably corrupt and questionable the government's case was. And the behavior of the FBI. Could you just remind us of a little bit of that, Bill? Because we know that Hinckley got a fair trial.

Means: Well of course in Leonard Peltier's trial there was evidence presented at several appeals, in which he was ... his witnesses, in terms of the prosecution, some of whom were mentally ill and coerced into saying ... and later these people, witnesses they used against Peltier, in his case, later recanted their story. And then we have the idea that the FBI agents themselves, every time he comes up for parole, send letters into the U.S. federal parole board, which doesn't exist anymore. But they have mounted several campaigns in the past, even as far as marching visibly in front of the Supreme Court, when his case made it to the Supreme Court.

So we have this active protest by FBI agents against the release of Leonard Peltier, every time even the thought comes up. But yet we have Hinckley, who's been convicted, and nobody from the FBI says anything, at least not yet. So again, when the evidence was overwhelmingly ... you know there were so many contradictions.

There was one case that went to the Supreme Court that involved the weapon that was used. It turns out that this famous FBI lab, which has been used to convict many people charged with a crime by the FBI, well, their evidence was corrupt. And even they said that they were allowed to use this evidence that this was the gun that killed the agents when it turned out, in court, that it was impossible, that the firing pin evidence didn't match. And so they used, in order to sway the jury, false evidence. And there's many, many other examples, if you read up a little bit on the Leonard Peltier case, even his extradition from Canada, where they used false testimony and coerced testimony to bring him back across the border. Several federal judges, including in Canada and in the U.S., have indicated that Peltier should have at least gotten a new trial, based on the evidence not based on coerced testimony, false testimony, and manipulation of the evidence.

DB: Bill, this has got to go into the extreme racism file when there's sort of like "red lives don't matter, white lives are exalted," even if they're people who tried to kill the president of the United States. I mean, the standard here, the dual standard here ... this is sort of consistent with the fact that this is the government that committed genocide against the Indian people. And this setup of Leonard Peltier is in the context that you were a part of, the first time ever in modern history that the indigenous community stood up at Wounded Knee. So this is that ongoing 40-year lesson, right? Continuing lesson, to the Native American community, the indigenous community: "We will do whatever it takes to shut your ass down." I'm really amazed at this one. Your thoughts on that part of it.

Means: Well, of course, we have in the case of the Black Lives Matter, and the issue of what happened in Orlando, Florida, in the nightclub, so many people were killed. They said Orlando was the largest massacre in the history of the United States. That shows you how much the Americans have forgotten about their own history. We have had countless massacres, including Sand Creek, including Wounded Knee, including many, many others, throughout the continental United States, where masses of Indians ... We have a grave on our reservation, seven miles from my home community, at a little hamlet called Wounded Knee, in which over 300 men, women and children are still buried, in a mass grave. Same with the Cheyenne people, when they were attacked by a Methodist minister acting as a military leader -- his name was Colonel Chivington -- down in Colorado.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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