Four paintings by Leonard Peltier, 71, a Native American activist currently serving two consecutive life sentences in a Washington State prison, will be removed this week. Peltier is convicted of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 situation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. His paintings were hanging at the front doors of Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries headquarters.
The paintings are being removed due to complaints from staff and law enforcement officers. “[Peltier’s] nothing but a thug,” says retired FBI agent Ray Lauer. “He’s an unrepentant cop killer.” Lauer is a member of the Retired FBI Agents Association, which penned a letter to Labor and Industries asking that Peltier’s work be taken down.
The department has agreed to remove the paintings later this week and replace them with someone else’s work. The paintings were part of a lobby exhibit dedicated to the National American Indian Heritage Month.
Tim Church, a spokesperson for Labor and Industries, said that the department did not intend to further Peltier’s cause by displaying the art he made in prison. “[The exhibit] doesn’t delve into any of the background of the situation that happened years ago,” Church said. “We feel badly about the impressions that they’re taking from it. We truly do.”
Peltier’s son has been displaying his father’s art around the country, arguing that there is no evidence his father is responsible for anyone’s deaths. He displays the works in hopes of raising awareness for his father and advancing attempts to get Peltier a presidential pardon.
Does Peltier’s work have any right to hang in government buildings? Do officials reserve the right to remove artwork on the grounds of the artist’s history? Certainly it would be in bad taste for the government to promote work done by the killer of government officials, but is a piece of artwork’s history necessary to the piece itself? Share your thoughts with us!