Most people around here have probably never heard of Native American Leonard Peltier.
The Anishinabe-Dakota tribal member’s story is an ongoing civil rights cause to many, including Amnesty International, but to the FBI and many others, the long-imprisoned Peltier is seen as a killer.
In 1977, Peltier was convicted of murdering two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Indian reservation in a shootout made broadly famous by Robert Redford’s film, “Incident at Oglala,” and Peter Matthieeson’s book, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.”
Peltier and his supporters have said for decades that his prosecution was political and deeply flawed. He’s been denied parole repeatedly, even though evidence of misjustice has emerged over the years.
So what does Peltier have to do with Durham? What does he have to do with a broken-down ’80s era Toyota Granville RV? And why was that RV sitting in in the corner of a Durham grocery store lot one day around noon?
There they blared: big, bold, black handwritten words, “FREE LEONARD PELTIER,” on the side of the RV. Next to them, a likeness of Peltier.
Durham drivers slowly rolled by on their way to get milk and muffins. Leonard Peltier?
What I noticed was the tallish woman with her long hair bunched up on her head so she could see better. She was leaning over the hood of the RV, working a wrench in the blazing sun.
Her friend, Josh Borden, stood beside her, but Taylor Pulsifer was doing most of the work. Perspiration soaked through parts of her T-shirt, which had drawings of three puppies beneath the words: “Dogs for Peace.”
I walked up. “So,” I said. “Leonard Peltier.”
“You know about him?” asked Taylor.
“I do. Why is that message on the RV, and where are you guys going?”
“Because he’s innocent,” young 20something Pulsifer said. “We’re getting the word out.”
“It was 40 years ago,” I said.
Pulsifer looked over with sparkling, serious eyes. “It’s never too late for justice.”