UPDATE: Rutgers University issued a statement announcing Pierce has declined to speak or accept the honorary degree “in order to assure that commencement 2016 will be a celebration of the accomplishments of our students free of distractions.”
“At the same time, we are pleased to announce that award-winning journalist, documentarian, news anchor, and producer Soledad O’Brien will address the Class of 2016,” reads the statement.
ATLANTA, GA—The US Presidential election continues to cause conflicts that sometimes become physical, with one of the latest dust-ups resulting in legal trouble for the speaker scheduled to headline Rutgers-Newark’s May 18 convocation.
In a bizarre incident during the early morning hours of May 14, Wendell Pierce, a popular actor, radio personality, and humanitarian, was arrested and charged with battery for a political fight that turned physical in an Atlanta hotel.
Pierece was released from Fulton County Jail the following morning on $1,000 bond and could still be available to give the speech.
Pierce is sill scheduled to speak at the May 18 commencement ceremony, just four days after his run-in with the law, according to the commencement website. The University’s media relations department said it was “not sure” if he will still be giving the speech, and said an announcement would be made on May 16.
Pierce is a popular celebrity, best known for his role as Baltimore Police Detective William “The Bunk” Moreland on HBO’s “The Wire.” Most recently, he starred as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in “Confirmation,” a TV movie on the same network.
“The incident did not rise to anything significant so no special notification was made,” the Atlanta Police told a TV station. “It was treated like any other arrest a patrol officer conducts. Mr. Pierce made no indication he was famous nor did the officer inquire.”
The news of his arrest came as US President Barack Obama headlined the graduation ceremony at Rutgers’ flagship campus in Central Jersey.
During Obama’s speech he took verbal swipes at Republican candidate Donald Trump, without mentioning his name.
Pierce’s physical alteraction two nights earlier was also political, according to TMZ.com.
Pierce allegedly got into an altercation with supporters of Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, according to the site. Pierce is allegedly a supporter of Sanders’ only remaining opponent, Hillary Clinton.
The celebrity gossip website said its sources reported that “the actor struck up a convo with [a] woman and her boyfriend at around 3:30 AM.”
“The talk turned political,” continues the report, and Pierce “got upset when the woman declared her support for Bernie [Sanders].”
The report said Pierce “became enraged, pushed the boyfriend and then went after his girlfriend … grabbing her hair and smacking her in the head.”
Then, according to their source, Pierce’s two victims went to their room and called hotel security, who then called cops.
Pierce is an accomplished actor who has also been known for “[using] his talents to draw attention to the pressing issues of urban America,” according to a write-up on the Rutgers-Newark website.
The glowing biography credits Pierce, a New Orleans native, with “founding a nonprofit organization to help his hometown recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina,” and publishing a book, “The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken.”
“Wendell Pierce was nominated because of his accomplishments in his acting field, and also for his philanthropic contributions,” the Editor-in-Chief of the Rutgers-Newark Observer, Ray Gnagey, was quoted as saying when Pierce was announced as the speaker in February.
Gnagey, one of the committee members who selected him, continued: “Additionally, I feel he has the charm and charisma to be a dynamic commencement speaker for the university.”
Rutgers-Newark offers a course that focuses on “The Wire,” one of many reasons Pierce was chosen for the honor. From the Rutgers-Newark announcement:
RU-N’s course, “The Wire: Black Lives Matter,” has exploded in popularity for its dissection of the social and political ills highlighted by The Wire, as they relate to current race relations, police brutality within a fragile justice system, and class divisions in the United States. “[The Wire] reflects how our past was, but still reflects our current situation,” notes Anthony Austin, a Newark College of Arts and Sciences senior enrolled in the course. Initially airing in 2002, The Wire has allowed students to gauge how far society has progressed.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.