Will President Obama Grant Clemency to Leonard Peltier Before He Leaves Office?
TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway examines the political motivations behind mass imprisonment in the US and why so many people incarcerated can be considered “political prisoners.”
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway. Today’s segment will take a look at protest activities in support of gaining release for Leonard Peltier and other political prisoners in Washington DC.
ROBERT HILLARY KING: Look at it from a moralistic stand point of view and not a legalistic point of view. We raised the bar for everyone. We raised the bar for Leonard Peltier, who may not have any legal redress. We raised the bar for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia has all of his… maybe legal action “legal redress has ended”. But he does have moral redress. Leonard Peltier has this. Everyone else has this.
EDDIE CONWAY: There are many people being held in America’s jails and prisons that would qualify as being political prisoners because of unfair trials, because of institutional racism, because of white supremacy, because the war on drugs have been a war directed on poor people and oppressed people.
JASMINE HEISS: Almost everyone in our prison system is a political prisoner. This is an inherently political decision and the choice about who to prosecute, how to prosecute them and how to defend them in our criminal justice system is a political decision.
EDDIE CONWAY: Jasmine Heiss, is an organizer working with Amnesty International, testifying in front of the United Nations in reference to political prisoners.
JASMINE HEISS: I think that there’s a larger sort of responsibility incumbent on all of us to connect to the work around political prisoners and these issues that came from the ’70s and ’80s, a legacy of … to the ongoing fight for reimagining prisons and thinking about abolition that’s happening today.
EDDIE CONWAY: Prisons today are a new level of slavery. People are continuing to get rich off of the enslavement of other people.
JASMINE HEISS: And about a third of the Department of Justice’s total budget goes directly to the Bureau of Prisons with almost no oversight. Right? And so you just have money being filtered from our government to our prison system where Asian prisoners, many of whom I would argue are political prisoners, are being held.
ROBERT HILLARY KING: There are over two million people who are enslaved right now. I mean, if they’re not slaving, out right here, victims of a system that is corrupt.
EDDIE CONWAY: Robert King is the first member of the Angola Three to be released from Angola Prison in Louisiana. The Angola Three were members of the Black Panther Party that got falsely accused of killing a police officer. Robert King proved in the Court that he had nothing to do with it and he was released, so he’s a former political prisoner that is out in America and around the world, organizing support for political prisoners.
ROBERT KING: We really want to free those political prisoners. But if you’re not a political prisoner in America, you are a political victim, because you’re a victim of corruption… and it doesn’t make a difference this day what color you are these days. You can be black, brown, white, blue, green, or purple, it wouldn’t matter. It’s a legal system that enslaves people.
BARACK OBAMA: And the effects of this mass incarceration rippled through families and communities, especially communities of color.
JASMINE HEISS: Complicating this question of where are we now? Will Leonard Peltier get clemency from President Obama? We have to look at the fact that there are these sorts of rigid structures that have been set around who is eligible for clemency at this point. Now, there are many people I have spoken to who do not necessarily come from our circles, right. They include people like prison guards at USP Coleman, where Leonard is being held, who say, “He shouldn’t be in prison anymore.”
BARACK OBAMA: For too many individuals, particularly, non-violent offenders caught up in an environment in which drugs are pervasive and opportunity is lacking, the punishment does not fit the crime.
JASMINE HEISS: His Clemency Petition is meritorious despite the fact that it doesn’t conform to the structure of a non-violent drug offender with no disciplinary charges.
EDDIE CONWAY: President Obama’s refusal to give pardons or clemency to any prisoners that had conflicts inside the prison shouldn’t really apply to Leonard Peltier because Leonard is one, a political prisoner, which the FBI records show that he was probably innocent and so, by Peltier being in there and having whatever conflicts he might have been involved in, is the results of him being locked up illegally in the first place. And he will probably die in prison if he doesn’t receive a pardon.
JASMINE HEISS: And so, you know, beyond this moment, beyond the charge to go forward, to call the White House up until January 20th, to hold Members of Congress accountable, to continue to make our voices heard and I would say expand to the Left to the levels of radicalism that it has thus far been expanded to the Right very vocally.
EDDIE CONWAY: It’s timely now because there’s an effort to put pressure on President Obama to pardon or give clemency to Leonard Peltier and other Black Panther Party political prisoners that are in the Federal system because this is the last opportunity to save lives of the people that are in their late ’60s and early ’70s because once Donald Trump becomes the President, there will be no clemency pardons or anything. In fact, we’re looking forward to the jails being filled up.
JASMINE HEISS: Not only is it coming to the end of an Obama Presidency, and we have the next administration that has proven itself to no friend to human rights and asking for the President to show some of the political courage that has been so deeply lacking on the Left and make a decision that is, again, beyond the bounds of the political reality that he set with his clemency program.
EDDIE CONWAY: Please continue to follow us as we try to follow the actions and activities of activists and community supporters in their efforts to free our political prisoners.