Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater resigned from Howard University’s Board of Trustees Tuesday after a dramatic confrontation between District of Columbia riot police and students who had occupied the university’s administration building to protest Atwater’s selection.
More than 100 police officers in full riot gear swooped down on the campus at noon to remove and arrest up to 1,000 students barricaded there since Monday, but abruptly left after Mayor Marion Barry sped to the scene to negotiate with the protesters.
University President James E. Cheek said Tuesday night he had asked police to stop when he learned that officers who had made their way inside the building were preparing to use tear gas and battering rams to reach students barricaded in various offices.
“I told them that it was too risky. . . . We could not risk anyone getting hurt,” Cheek said.
The protesters at the predominantly black campus had contended that Atwater was not sensitive to black concerns.
Atwater, who watched televised reports of the incident Tuesday, later submitted his resignation, telling Howard board Chairman John E. Jacob that he feared “someone could be injured in the protest.”
“That I could not accept,” Atwater said in the letter.
But Atwater’s resignation did not immediately end the protest, because students had a list of other demands, including better security and housing, more blacks on the Board of Trustees, and improvements in student services.
Hundreds of students remained in the administration building. The school has about 11,000 students.
Atwater’s resignation followed a statement of support from President Bush, who, when asked at a news conference about the protests over his former campaign manager, had described Atwater’s appointment to the university board in January as “a good thing.”
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he had called Atwater Tuesday night to urge the GOP chairman to resign. Jackson had received calls from the Howard demonstrators as armed members of the police Emergency Response Team surrounded the administration building and prepared to remove the students.