by Derek Gilna
American University, a private college in Washington, D.C., bowed to pressure from a federal law enforcement group and removed a statue of Native American activist and prisoner Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of the 1975 murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Peltier, 71, a former leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), has always maintained his innocence. He is considered to be a political prisoner by Amnesty International, the National Congress of American Indians and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights.
On December 9, 2016, an artist identified only as Rigo 23, with the permission of American University, installed a nine-foot-tall redwood statute of Peltier with a base fashioned to represent the dimensions of the prison cell in which he is confined. The artist said the statute is “a symbol of Native struggle for self-determination in North America.”
However, school officials had the statue removed in early January 2017 after receiving a letter of opposition from the FBI Agents Association.
“[T]he removal of this political work of art is an extreme and particularly shameful example of censorship of political expression. American University is supposed to be a bastion of academic freedom,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a constitutional attorney and executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, who opposed the removal of the statue. She added, “What American University is saying is that the moment that a political opponent of a form of political expression condemns it they will just genuflect and take it down.”
Peltier is in ill health, and his supporters had hoped that the artwork would draw attention to his petition for clemency. He has served over 40 years in prison.
Sources: www.freeleonard.org, www.democracynow.org
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