By Chloe Marina Manchester
“Obama don’t let Leonard die, for the crooked FBI” chanted the crowd, as students and community members gathered in Red Square to protest the continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier, Nestora Salgado, and all political prisoners on February 24.
This rally was organized by the Free Nestora group on campus as a part of the Student National Day of Action. It was done to raise awareness of the struggles that political prisoners face, to urge President Obama to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, and to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to to help Salgado get release from the El Rincon, the prison she is held in. Obama has the authority to grant executive clemency, which would mean that Peltiers sentence would be commuted
The rally began with chanting and handing out posters, some depicting Leonard Peltier and others with information on how to help Peltier and Nestora. There were three scheduled speakers, two Indigenous community members and one student, with a few other students stepping up to the megaphone to say their piece.
Leonard Peltier is the longest held Native American (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) political prisoner in United States history. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in 1977 for the alleged murder of two federal agents in a shootout on Pine Ridge, he admitted to having been at the shooting but denies having committed the crime.
Michael Lane, an Evergreen professor for the MPA program with a masters in Indigenous studies was one of the speakers at the rally. He said it is no longer a question of whether Leonard Peltier actually committed the crime, but it now is a question of symbolic suppression. At this point Peltier has been in prison and denied parole longer than the normal time served for his the crimes he is accused of, and longer anyone before him who was sentenced to a comparable crime.
Peltier has been in prison since 1977 and has had no opportunity for parole. The first speaker at the rally, Jimbo Simmons (Choctaw) started of by saying that this rally was for “Our brother, Leonard Peltier, who has been in prison as long as you have been alive.” Peltier is now 71 years old and has been in prison for over half of his life.
This rally was also in support of Nestora Salgado. Salgado is a naturalized US citizen who grew up in the indigenous village of Olinalá in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. She moved to the US at 20 and divided her time between Mexico and Renton, Washington. According to the website, freenestora.org, “Over the past four years, she made numerous trips to deliver clothing and supplies to the desperately poor residents of her hometown.” During her trips home, she saw the rise of political corruption and violent crime, this lead her to become a community activist advocating for human rights of indigenous people in Guerrero and neighboring regions. According to the Free Nestora information site, “In particular, she became a leader of the indigenous movement for community policing that has swept through the region in the past several years. Guerrero State Law 701 and Article 2.A of the Mexican Constitution guarantees the right of indigenous people to self-government and self-defense, including the formation of their own police forces.” Salgado put these laws into practice by organizing with others to form a community police force in Olinalá.
The official reason for her detention on August 21, 2013 was because she, as a part of the community police force, arrested several teenage girls for dealing drugs as well as the local sheriff, Armando Patrón Jiménez, for, according to the Free Nestora website,“tampering with evidence at the crime scene of a double assassination, where he attempted to steal a cow, the property of the deceased. She is falsely charged with kidnapping both the sheriff and the girl.” After refusing to let the sheriff go free without a public trial, she was transported by private plane to a maximum security prison, El Rincon, in Tepic, Nayarit, 600 miles away. Family members learned of her location only after requesting assistance from the U.S. Embassy. From the Free Nestora site, “Mexican officials had provided them no information. Kidnapping is not a federal crime in Mexico and those convicted are usually held in local prisons.”
The third speaker, Miriam Padilla, spoke about Salgado’s living conditions in prison. She has been kept in prolonged solitary confinement and denied access to clean water. Padilla ended her speech with, “From Palestine to North America, free all political prisoners.” The effort to free Salgado has been gaining momentum, but that does not mean efforts should let up. This month the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Salgado’s arrest and imprisonment are illegal, and on Feb. 22 the Seattle City Council passed a resolution calling for Salgado’s immediate release.
Amnesty International uses the term Prisoners of Conscience, and defines them as “People who have been jailed because of their political, religious or other conscientiously-held beliefs, ethnic origin, sex, color, language, national or social origin, economic status, birth, sexual orientation or other status, provided that they have neither used nor advocated violence.” Defining political prisoner is, in general challenging. Especially in the United States when people in certain demographics are disproportionately jailed as compared to their more privileged counterparts. In an interview with Truth-Out, a non profit news organization Laura Whitehorn said, “The vast majority of people in prison are there not so much for what they did but for who they were when they did it,”
Political prisoners are not just imprisoned based on their political beliefs but because of the actions that they carried out in service of those beliefs and stuggles.
For more information about Nestor Salgado, visit FreeNestora.org. For more information about Leonard Peltier visit WhoIsLeonardPeltier.info.