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Horace Mann alumni consider rescinding 2011 award to William Barr

PLUS: Manhattan College students want Kelly Commons renamed

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William Barr might be working to distance himself from an incident in Washington last week where the U.S. Attorney General reportedly ordered the removal of peaceful protesters on what's now become Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House — but he might have a different issue a little closer to where he once attended school in the Bronx.

The Horace Mann Alumni Association says it's now exploring the possibility of rescinding its distinguished achievement award given to Barr in 2011. The award has been given to those the association says "exemplifies distinguished achievement in his or her chosen profession or accomplishments," according to the school's website.

It's been awarded since 1939, and has honored Horace Mann graduates like Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Justin Kaplan, Monsanto Co. chief executive Robert P. Shapiro, Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck, and former governor Eliot Spitzer. 

Last year, the prize was given to Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union New York office, who fought against a number of Trump policies, including travel bans from Muslim countries, and the family separation policy at the border.

When the alumni group gave Barr the honor nearly a decade ago, the 1967 graduate of the school had been an attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, before taking corporate work with companies like GTE Corp., and Verizon.

But now that Barr has returned to the country top law enforcement position, a number of current and former students have pushed for the alumni association to rescind the award. That includes a petition at Change.org that has attracted more than 4,000 digital signatures since it started late last week. 

The alumni association's council met on Saturday to discuss the fate of Barr's award, deciding it needed more time to look into it.

"We have heard concerns expressed by current students, alumni and school employees regarding the Horace Mann School Alumni Association Award for Distinguished Achievement present to U.S. Attorney General William Barr in 2011," the alumni council said, in a statement. "In response, we are convening our council to canvass the views of our alumni constituencies and to review, in a deliberate manner, the range of perspectives that are being communicated to us in connection with the award. We intend to consider the issues thoroughly and sensitively."

The petition was started by Horace Mann students Jessica Rosberger and Kiara Royer, and criticized Barr for his role in using force to remove the protesters in order to clear a way for President Trump to conduct a photo-op at a church near the White House.

"Barr directly ordered the violent removal of protesters for the president's political gain, and this was a callous and despicable act demonstrating a clear disregard for our democratic values of free speech and racial justice," the two wrote in the online petition's introduction. "In addition, Barr violated our school's core values of mutual respect and mature behavior as well as our mission statement by infringing on the common good. William Barr should not be held as a model member of our community because of his disgraceful actions."

Horace Mann isn't the only local school looking to make changes in the aftermath of the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. An anonymous petition launched on Change.org last week demanding Manhattan College rename its Kelly Commons building on Waldo Avenue. Already attracting more than 1,500 virtual signatures, those pushing for the renaming say the school should not honor former New York Police Department commissioner Raymond Kelly because of his push for "stop and frisk."

The program, originally implemented under another Manhattan College alum — Mayor Rudy Giuliani — allowed police to stop anyone they saw on the street, and search them for weapons or contraband. The practice was originally allowed after a 1960s-era U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found an officer fearing for his safety was grounds for that officer to search someone they've come into contact with for weapons.

Although courts ruled the program unfairly targeted minority communities, it was allowed to remain in the books. Mayor Bill de Blasio has reduced the number of stop-and-frisks allowed, while The Bronx Defenders have fought to keep records of those arrested under the program sealed.

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