No, this doesn’t hearken back to the glory days of Motown and the 1962 hit by the Drifters.
A recent article in the San Francisco News, an online bay area news source, described a large-scale statue of Leonard Peltier sitting, literally, up on the roof of the San Francisco Art Institute.
The twelve-foot high redwood and steel likeness, created by an accomplished artist, is based on Peltier’s self-portrait sitting forlornly and contemplating his forty-four year existence in federal prison (Footnote 1). The article emphasized the significance of Native American challenges but at least did not repeat Peltier’s shallow claims of innocence (Fn. 2). The article mentioned that Peltier has been incarcerated since 1977 (actually since his arrest on February 6, 1976, after fleeing to Canada), but fails to mention his conviction for the brutal murder of two already wounded FBI Agents, nor the initial unprovoked attack on the Agents by Peltier and other American Indian Movement members.
The Peltier effigy is deliberately placed to “gaze across the bay to Alcatraz, a pivotal place for the American Indian Movement.” (With no insignificant sense of irony Peltier did not participate in the seminal AIM event, the occupation of Alcatraz in 1969. Peltier also missed the takeover and destruction of the Pine Ridge village of Wounded Knee in 1973. Peltier was in jail at the time. However, he did participate in the “Trail of Broken Treaties” and the ransacking of the Washington, D.C. Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters in 1972, and of course, the murder of two FBI Agents on June 26, 1975 on the Jumping Bull farm.)
Peltier is facing in the wrong direction.
Looking almost due North toward Alcatraz, he should instead be turned to the south-southeast facing Lompoc, California, and its federal prison. On July 20, 1979 Peltier was involved in an armed escape where guards were taken under fire. Captured five days later he received an additional seven years added to his consecutive life sentences.
According to the article the statue has removable feet that have travelled around the country and supporters have stood on the feet to show solidarity. This may be a metaphor to symbolically walk in Peltier’s shoes as Peltier, undoubtedly, wishes he could walk-back from the carnage at Jumping Bull and that he had taken a different path. One likely path could have been his artistic interests that were frustrated after being turned down for a Santa Fe art school scholarship. He lamented later that “I often wonder what my life would have been like if I’d have just gotten that scholarship” (Prison Writings, p.85). Peltier, perhaps another Rigo 23, would not be in the situation or the subject of discussion he finds himself in today.
The article pointed out that at times the effigy has not been well received as when it was on display at the American University in Washington, D.C. and was “censored and taken down after complaints from the president of the FBI Agent’s Association.”
The FBIAA is an organization dedicated to providing support and advocacy to active and former FBI Agents and challenged American University’s apparent endorsement, using public space, of Peltier’s criminal actions (Fn. 3). Further, that facts regarding Peltier’s conviction were being ignored by the university including, “through well-over a dozen appeals, twice reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, every aspect of Peltier’s trial has been reviewed in minute detail and his conviction and sentence has been upheld in every instance” (Fn. 4). The manner in which Agents’ Coler and Williams were murdered was seen as an affront to law enforcement across the country as the FBIAA sought to continue to honor the sacrifice in the line-of-duty of two of their own.
American University thought better of its decision to display the effigy and stated, in part:
“With the benefit of a fuller review, we have made a decision to remove the piece from this location. The subject matter and placement of the piece improperly suggested that American University has assumed an advocacy position of clemency for Mr. Peltier, when no such institutional position has been taken.”
The San Francisco News states in their “Declaration of Principles,” that, “we promise,” “To allow commentary writers the freedom to express their opinions and views without interruption, censorship, or persuasion.”
Having pointed that out, this blog will be sent to the San Francisco News in the hope they will permit a response to the article, “Artist Rigo 23 Unveils New Statue In Honor Of Leonard Peltier.”
“In the Spirit of Coler and Williams”
1) San Francisco News article: https://www.thesfnews.com/artist-rigo-23-unveils-new-statue-in-honor-of-leonard-peltier/68470
2) Anyone who has even a cursory understanding of the history of the unconscionable treatment of First Americans cannot ignore, or deny, that their treatment by the U.S. Government was tantamount to genocide. Correcting those wrongs: the broken treaties, the banishing to remote Reservations and the cultural dismemberment of a proud Native heritage cannot be ignored. Without question it is a complicated history that even God cannot change. In contrast, however, the events at Pine Ridge on June 26, 1975 by Peltier and others was a purely wanton criminal act.
3) FBIAA press release, December 29, 2016: https://fbiaa.org/fbiaa-press-releases-list/fbi-agents-association-calls-american-university-remove-leonard-peltier
4) Significant legal decisions re the conviction of Leonard Peltier:
A concise history of guilt:
Important reminders re Peltier’s conviction and guilt: