On June 26, around 50 community members gathered at Chicano Park in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood to demand freedom for Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier and express support for Indigenous resistance in Minnesota and beyond. Donning placards with the phrases “Free Leonard Peltier! 45 years too long!” and “Peltier: Victim of U.S. government and FBI persecution,” supporters listened as an array of community organizers spoke out against the injustices committed against Native Americans and about the urgent need for Leonard’s freedom as his health deteriorates.
The event was organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation and ANSWER San Diego. It was endorsed by the Chicano Park Steering Committee, Unión del Barrio, Anakbayan San Diego, American Friends Service Committee, Umoja, Peace and Freedom Party San Diego and more.
The action at Chicano Park was held on the 46th anniversary of the infamous shootout at Oglala, which took place after two unidentified FBI agents invaded a farm on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It resulted in the deaths of the agents and subsequent persecution of Leonard Peltier. There has been momentum around the demand for Peltier’s freedom as of late. It includes a group of ‘Freedom Riders’ who traveled on horseback from Nebraska to Washington D.C. with the aim of raising awareness for his struggle. You can read more about this journey and the events that led up to Leonard’s unjust incarceration here.
Standing on Chicano Park’s pavilion, Stan Rodriguez, a member of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel and language instructor at Kumeyaay Community College, spoke about the real reason for Leonard’s imprisonment. Stan shared: “When we take a look at this man whose convictions were for our people, our Native people, and the plight that our Native people have had on and off the reservation, this man was a true warrior. … That’s what this man is guilty of, standing up for our rights.”
Attendees also heard from Jose Cortes, a PSL member and candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in East San Diego County. Cortes explained, “What we are seeing is a capitalist and imperialist experiment to dominate our people, to genocide our cultures, to extract value and super-profits off of our lives and the lives of our loved ones.” He then connected the local struggle against police brutality with the struggle for Native sovereignty, stating: “I remember … seeing people in my hometown gassed and shot at for uprisings against police brutality with weapons of war, fresh from the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember that same feeling of struggle and how the struggle for Indigenous liberation is equal — is the exact same struggle — for human dignity and human liberation.”
Arantxa Calles from the ANSWER Coalition spoke about how imprisonment is used as a tool of political repression. They stated, “Black and Indigenous folks have the highest rates of being incarcerated. … What happens is people are forced into horrible poverty, they are brutalized by the police, they are denied the right to medical care, to housing … then when they rise up, when they demand better, the real possibility of a just system … they are put into prison; they are horribly repressed.”
Liberation News spoke with community member and American Indian Movement of Southern California organizer Dee Dee Ybarra. Ybarra told us, “A lot of younger people don’t know who [Leonard] is, don’t know his story, so it’s important for us to make sure that they learn who he is and what happened, all the struggle and all the things that were used against him to put him where he is today.”
The rally concluded with a letter-writing session where attendees drafted cards and notes to send to Leonard Peltier. If you’d like to write to Leonard Peltier or learn more about his struggle for freedom, visit the International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee website and follow them on Twitter (@PeltierHQ).
Featured image: Stan Rodriguez tells attendees about what Leonard represents for Native American communities. Liberation photo by Michaela Malone