Protesters Jeer, Disrupt James Comey Speech at Howard University

Image: James Comey delivers remarks at Howard University for the 150th Opening Convocation address on Sept. 22, 2017.
James Comey delivers remarks at Howard University for the 150th Opening Convocation address on Sept. 22, 2017.NBC News

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By Merdie Nzanga

WASHINGTON — Former FBI Director James Comey faced a gathering of chanting and jeering students at historically black Howard University on Friday, as some activists decried what they see as his efforts to "criminalize" Black Lives Matter.

Protesters, who'd planned the demonstration all week on social media, jumped to their feet in the back of the auditorium to chant before Comey took the stage to speak. Comey, dressed in black academic robes, stood facing the angry group of students who were shouting "we shall not be moved," "I love being black" and "no justice, no peace."

"I am here at Howard to have a conversation. I hope you listen to what I have to say, " Comey told the protesters to applause from other students, staff and faculty seated in rows closer to the front.

Still, the chants continued throughout Comey's address, even as a minister took to the stage and pleaded for the students to hear out the former FBI director. Music played from the chorus in an attempt to drown the students out.

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At one point, Howard University cut the live feed to the event and replaced it with documentary-style footage of the history of the school. The feed was later put back up.

President Donald Trump fired Comey in May and the former FBI director said his ouster was related to investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections.

Howard University officials announced in August that Comey would serve as the school's Gwendolyn S. Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in public policy for the 2017-2018 academic year. His responsibilities include leading a series of five lectures and formally welcoming the new freshmen class on Friday.

However, a number of students objected to the appointment.

In a petition circulated by "HU Resist," a student-run organization that challenges university policies, activists argued that Comey’s actions as as the head of the FBI included the "criminalization and attempted dismantling of Black Lives Matter” and the promotion of xenophobic "characterizations" of Muslims.

The organization also said on its twitter account that Comey has referred to mass incarceration as a process of "pulling up those many weeds" in order to improve communities.

Allyson Carpenter, a former student government leader, said she thinks the university administration believes students support Comey because he stood up to Trump.

However she added that students are more concerned about how his tenure as FBI Director "affected black Americans."

"What does Comey have to tell me about being a black woman?" she asked. "Why not Susan Rice, who also stood up to Trump?" she asked. Or "Donna Brazile?"

In a statement, Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick called Comey an ethical man who wants to challenge students to be more open to people who have different views.

Comey said he would donate his $100,000 salary to a scholarship fund for Howard students from foster care.