Skip to content

   

Wounded Knee: The Closing Argument

William Kunstler represented Russell Means and Dennis Banks of the American Indian Movement in the Wounded Knee Trial. Read excerpts from his closing argument in the case, and download a PDF of his complete closing argument.

Find out more about the Wounded Knee Trial.

William Kunstler: Image for Wounded Knee Closing Argument

Download the entire closing argument (PDF)

William Kunstler: You are the trier of the facts. You are the persons who heard the testimony. You are the persons who will try and decide this most important trial.

And you must recall. On your recollection may depend the liberty of two men. But more than that, may depend a social movement that is gathering strength and attempting to change 400 years of neglect and deprivation and destruction.

I want to just, before coming to my own conclusion, remind you what Mr. Lane stressed: You must stick to your guns in that juryroom. No compromise, if you don’t believe. If you don’t believe the government has proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt on every substantive or conspiracy count, you should not compromise to go home, even if you’re in the minority.

The joy of this, even if it leads to hung juries in cases, the joy is and the strength and the decency is – the fact that you don’t surrender your conscience to any human being.

...

Every word said by the prosecution against these two men and the people they stand for has been said about everyone down the long range of history. Everyone has been so condemned who stands up. It is difficult, it is dangerous, it causes death, as it has been in this case, to two young Indians, but it is the way the world changes.

Those who never speak never bring about change. Those who never act continue the same dreary path. Those who follow are those who go down in chains eventually, and all of us with them.

You have a role in that. You have a role to judge whether these men are felons and should be sent to jail. You have a role in judging whether they are real criminals of this world or whether what they would do was something that had to be done, and that you, yourself, were you to be born tomorrow anew, Chippewa or an Oglala Sioux, or a Genicon Sioux or a Hunkpapa or a Winnebago or a Pasquitan might have done yourself as you watched yourself and the people around you.

...

I would like to close with something I heard in another courtroom. I have read it many times. It was a client of mine, a Jesuit Priest by the name of Daniel Berrigan, and in 1968 he and eight others, all Roman Catholic, all went to a draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, and they burned 504 files, all the 1-A files so that young men would not have to go die in the mud somewhere for something that was despicable and indecent and immoral, and after he took the stand and testified as to all of the things he had done to avoid burning one draft card, the marches, the vigils, the picket lines, the letters to the editor, the electoral politicsl, the running for Congress, the prayers and the hopes, and then he said, “We had no choice and we, men and women who abhor violence, went and created it in the hopes of avoiding a greater violence,” and after he had testified I said to him, and I have the transcript here, I said, “Father, did you not write a meditation to accompany the statement issued by the nine defendants at Catonsville,” and he said, “yes, sir,” and I said, “Would you read that meditation,” and I will read you only a portion of it, because it says everything I wanted to end this summation with.

And so we stretch out our hands to our brothers throughout the world. We who are priests to our fellow priests. All of us who act against the law turn to the poor of the world, to the Vietnamese, to the victims, to the soldiers who kill and die for the wrong reasons, for no reason at all, because they were so ordered by the authorities of that public order which is in effect a massive institutionalized disorder. We say: Killing is disorder, life and gentleness and community and unselfishness is the only order we recognize. For the sake of that order we risk our liberty, our good name. The time is past when good men may be silent. When obedience can segregate men from public risk. When the poor can die with defense. How many indeed must die before our voices are heard. How many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, madded? How long must the world’s resources be raped in the service of legalized murder? When, at what point, will you say no to this war? We have chosen to say with the gift of our liberty, if necessary our lives: The violence stops here. Redeem the time. The times are inexpressibly evil. Christians pay conscious, indeed religious tribute to Caesar and Mars by the approval of overkill tactics, by bringmanship, by nuclear liturgies, by racism, by support of genocide. They embrace their society with all their heart and abandon the cross. They pay lip service to Christ and military services to the “powers of death, and yet – and yet the times are inexhaustibly good solaced by the courage and hope of many. The truth rules. Christ is not forsaken. In a time of death some men, [some women], and resisters, those who work hardily for social change, those who preach and embrace the truth, such men overcome death. Their lives are bathed in the light of the resurrection. The truth has set them free. In the jaws of death they proclaim their love of the brethen. WE think of such men, [such women] in the world, in our nation, in the churches, and thes tone in our breast is dissolved. We take heart once more.

And I said then as I say now, nothing further. The defense rests. These men are in your hands. Take good care of them, they are my brothers.

After a nine-month trial, Chief Judge Fred J. Nichols of the Federal District Court of South Dakota dismissed all charges on grounds of government misconduct. Among other things, Nichols found that the government had altered and fabricated evidence, committed illegal electronic surveillance, improperly engaged the military, violated court orders and lied to the court.





Talk About This

Share This

While our father lived in front of news cameras, we found our place behind the lens. We hope our film communicates that the world we inherit is better because someone struggled for justice, and that those changes will survive only if we continue to fight.”

— Sarah Kunstler, Filmmaker