Editor's Note: David Hunter cringes when he contemplates a possible pardon for Leonard Peltier. As he watched FBI Special Agents marching to the White House in protest he decided to pen this open letter to the President, exclusively for PoliceOne.com.
Dear Mr. President,
No one wants to believe that a man capable of writing books that can move the human spirit or of producing beautiful paintings is capable of murder. At the least, we would prefer to believe that such men surely change for the better as they age. Having been raised a Southern Baptist, I was taught to believe in deathbed conversions, just as you were.
That shared belief in the power of repentance is the reason I'm writing you this open letter. There are those who truly change, but we must look carefully to determine the genuine from the counterfeit.
There is a vast difference between true repentance and merely saying what others wish to hear. My concern is shared by special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who -- for perhaps the first time in history -- have taken to the streets with a public protest and a petition prepared for you, signed by thousands of active and former special agents.
As I write this letter, you have before you a request to pardon Leonard Peltier, a former American Indian Movement activist now serving life in a federal prison for the murder of two FBI agents, Ronald A. Williams and Jack R. Coler, who died on duty at the tragically early ages of 27 and 28.
You and I, Mr. President, also share the experience of having grown up in the same tumultuous period of political protest. Each of us in his own way has stood up to be counted, as did Ronald Williams and Jack Coler. After more than a decade of social activism, my fate led me into a relatively late career in law enforcement while yours took you all the way to the White House.
I have seen social activism from both sides, as an activist and a law enforcement officer and I can tell you that those who took up violence at a time when you and I were working for peaceful change within the system were of a different breed, already inclined towards vile acts of aggression before they cloaked themselves in righteous causes.
Much has been made of the fact that Leonard Peltier was poor and a high school dropout. Many of us were poor and struggled to educate ourselves but did not choose a path of violence. Most managed to survive and thrive without ever having physically harmed another human being.
There are those who make much of the fact that Peltier's initial act of violence against a Milwaukee police officer failed because of a malfunctioning weapon. They say that all else that befell him afterwards should be pardoned because they were a direct result of that youthful and misguided attack on what he viewed as an oppressive system.
Mr. President, weapons do sometimes misfunction. I know, because I've been there. But the mechanical failure of a firearm does not mitigate murderous intent.
On June 26, 1975, at least 125 rounds were fired from high-powered rifles by Leonard Peltier and his accomplices at agents Williams and Coler while they were engaged in doing their job. After being rendered helpless from the rifle fire, both agents were executed at close range by shots to the head, in the same manner that wounded animals are dispatched. This is the record of the trial that has held up through appeal after appeal.
Several years ago, I read a moving book by a death row inmate convicted of murdering a police officer as he lay helpless, a case very much like the one in which you are being asked to issue a pardon. Though a veteran police officer, I was so touched by the beauty of the writing, I could not believe the man who had written the book was capable of cold-blooded murder. But I was wrong. As in the Peltier case before you, that other case has withstood the intensive scrutiny of time and unending legal actions.
Artistic talent is not given only to the righteous. I have now lived long enough to understand that even methodical murderers are quite capable of producing richly creative works of art. And prior repentance is not necessary for the creation of such art.
Not that Peltier has repented. In fact, he still touts himself as a heroic member of a persecuted minority, who acted in self defense against a cruel and oppressive society. That our society has been cruel and oppressive at times is undeniable, as we both well know. The only question in Peltier's case, however, is whether murder is a justification for past injustices.
Mr. President, the answer to that question is a resounding "no." Peltier may well have done many good deeds since being imprisoned as his supporters claim. His victims, however, were denied the opportunity of ever again doing good deeds because they died senselessly at such young ages.
Whether you are considering, or have seriously considered a pardon for Leonard Peltier, I do not know. What I do know is that he murdered two human beings, one of whom had his hand protectively raised in front of his face when he was shot.
Please make sure that Leonard Peltier continues to produce his art behind prison walls. It's the safest thing for the rest of us.
And it is justice, if there ever was justice..
David Hunter's column, "The Beat Goes On," appears exclusively on the Internet at PoliceOne.com. For information on purchasing Hunter's latest novels, "A Whiff of Garlic," and "The Dancing Savior," or where to obtain Hunter's other works visit his Web page: hometown.aol.com/tnbard/index.html. You can contact David Hunter directly by writing him at P.O. Box 1124, Powell, Tenn. 37849. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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