After pressure from a law-enforcement group, American University says it will remove a statue of Leonard Peltier, a Native American convicted for the first-degree murder of two FBI agents in 1975.
Peltier, 72, who has been in prison for nearly three decades, maintains his innocence, and his allies range from Amnesty International to Jesse Jackson. Especially as the Standing Rock protests gained international attention, activists have pushed for President Obama to grant Peltier clemency.
Peltier’s supporters erected the 9-foot statue of him at American University in December to draw attention to their pleas for a pardon, according to a Dec. 12 American University news release.
Last week, the FBI Agents Association sent American University a letter imploring the university to remove the statue, calling it “a political statement, rather than simply a display of art.”
By keeping the statue on campus, the law-enforcement group claimed, American University reinforced “slanted and misleading claims” about Peltier’s case. The FBI Agents Association noted how appeals courts have upheld Peltier’s conviction, also describing his involvement in a prison escape where shots were fired at guards.
In a statement Monday, American University said it had decided to remove the statue, which was originally scheduled to remain on campus through April. The university added that it would work with artists to find a new host for the display.
“The subject matter and placement of the piece improperly suggested that American University has assumed an advocacy position of clemency for Mr. Petlier, when no such institutional position has been taken,” American University said in an emailed statement. “Further, the nature and location of the piece called into question our ability to honor our responsibilities to ensure the security of the art and the safety of our community.”
The FBI Agents Association praised the decision in an email on Monday night. By deadline, representatives for Peltier did not respond to Heat Street’s request for comment.
Peltier’s son Chauncey told Washington D.C.’s ABC7: “Whatever [AU administrators] feel is the best interest of the college, I stand behind them. But it’s a bummer now in America we’re losing our freedom of speech.”