WASHINGTON (ABC7) — American University plans to remove a controversial statue from its campus after an outcry from law enforcement groups.
The statue depicts Native American activist Leonard Peltier who is serving two life terms for the 1975 murders of FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams.
Supporters believe Peltier was wrongly convicted - even framed. But critics call him "a cold-blooded killer" and they were outraged when the giant statue landed on the American University campus, prominently displayed near Ward Circle.
At first, responding to reporters' questions, AU took no position on the artwork. But that changed this week.
"The decision to host the Peltier statue required a more thorough assessment of the implications of placing the piece in a prominent, public space outside the museum. With the benefit of a fuller review, we have made a decision to remove the piece from this location,” the university said in a statement.
The statement continued, "the subject matter and placement of the piece improperly suggested that American University has assumed an advocacy position of clemency, when no such institutional position has been taken."
Peltier’s son Chauncey responded to the statue’s pending removal, saying, “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.”
The younger Peltier lives in Oregon. He said he and many activists, including groups like Amnesty International, are hopeful President Obama will commute his 72-year old father's sentence.
“Where is the evidence that says Leonard did this? The falsified ballistics, the tampered witnesses, the corroborated statements, the withheld statements. How can someone die in prison for that,” he asked.
But the FBI Agents Association and other groups see Peltier’s petition for clemency differently.
In a statement, the FBIAA said, "In well over a dozen appeals, twice reaching the U.S. Supreme Court, every aspect of Mr. Peltier's trial has been reviewed in detail."
The statement added, “Peltier has never taken responsibility for his crimes while imprisoned."
It is unclear where the statue will go now; what’s clear is the new location will be somewhere off-campus. AU said it is working with the artist to find an organization willing to exhibit the art.