News & Politics

At Lawmaker's Behest, Painting of Cops as Pigs Graces U.S. Capital

As the Obama era mercifully comes to a close, a painting that depicts police officers as pigs with guns pointed at black people is gracing a wall in the nation’s capital.

The untitled painting, by a senior at a Catholic high school in St. Louis, was chosen on behalf of Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) as part of the United States Congressional Art Competition. The student’s artwork won first place in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, so it’s now being displayed in a tunnel between the U.S. Capitol building and Longworth House Office Building.

Clay praised the painting in a press release:

Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School Senior David Pulphus has won Congressman Wm. Lacy Clay’s 16th Annual Congressional Art Competition.

His visually stunning acrylic painting on canvas entitled, “Untitled #1” will be displayed at the U.S. Capitol Complex. Pulphus will travel to Washington, DC, courtesy of Southwest Airlines, to unveil his winning entry. The painting portrays a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society.

According to Independent Journal Review, the artwork “supposedly symbolizes the unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown” by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, in 2014. Included in the painting is a depiction of “St. Michael” being crucified while wearing a graduation cap.

The St. Louis American describes the painting thus:

His winning work is an acrylic painting featuring a downtown street scene with the Gateway Arch displayed in the background and three police officers with animal heads, two with guns in hand, and a large group of marchers moving toward the police.

[…]

The lead marcher carries a sign that says the word “history.” Pulphus’ painting includes several signs, one of which says “Racism Kills,” and another “Stop Killing.” On the right you can see a man being crucified wearing a graduation cap holding the scales of justice in his hands.

The painting is an interpretation of the months of unrest that took place in the region in response to the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown Jr. by then-Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014.

Do we really have to go over this again?

Brown, of course, was described as a “gentle giant” before he was seen pushing a petite Asian shopkeeper around to steal a handful of cigarillos — presumably to use for his pot-smoking habit. Then he swore at the police officer, refused to comply with lawful police orders, resisted arrest, assaulted the cop, reached for the officer’s gun, evaded arrest, and, instead of putting his hands up and saying “don’t shoot,” put his head down and charged at the officer. That’s when the “unarmed teen” met his fateful end.

The painting, as one might imagine, has ruffled some feathers in D.C.

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), a former law enforcement officer, told Independent Journal Review in a statement that he was disappointed to see the painting in the hallway of our nation’s Capitol:

“It is disheartening to see this depiction of law enforcement hanging in the hallway of our nation’s Capitol where officers work everyday to protect our safety and freedoms. Unfortunately, many people of influence have taken part in promoting offensive and inaccurate caricatures of the very people who do the most to protect our families. While I understand in some neighborhoods trust between police and communities has all but deteriorated, we must work on rebuilding these relationships and focus on our shared goals of peace and civility.”

A senior Republican congressional aide also blasted the artwork in a scathing statement provided to IJR:

“That a sitting member of Congress thought it was a good idea to honor the depiction of police officers as pigs — in the U.S. Capitol of all places — is reprehensible. I feel incredibly sad that the officers working nearby have to see this on the wall. These officers protect this congressman, his staff, and his office every day, never knowing if it may be their last. Meanwhile, he’s encouraging teenagers in his district to treat police officers as animals. It’s disgusting, and he should be ashamed. This hate masquerading as art needs to be taken down now.”

The aide told IJR that he first saw the painting after noticing two police officers huddled around it.

They looked at it and then walked back to where they came from.

“It’s just sad,” the aide told IJR.

It’s especially sad in light of the fact that those officers put their lives on the line every day to protect congresscritters like Clay — and deadly ambushes against police officers happen to be at a two-decade high at the moment.

Via the Washington Times:

Shootings were the No. 1 cause of death for law enforcement in 2016, claiming the lives of 64 officers — including eight gunned down in two ambush attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July. The report notes 21 of the officers were shot and killed in ambush-style attacks.

Firearms-related deaths were up 56 percent over the 41 officers killed by gunfire in 2015, but are still far below the all-time high of 156 officers killed by gunfire in 1973.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, 138 law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty so far this year.

I’m not surprised that a high school kid would produce an offensive, wrongheaded painting that demeans police officers as pigs and turns a violent criminal into a martyr, and I’m not surprised that there are members of Congress who think the painting’s message is totally appropriate. I’m not even surprised that a Catholic high school allowed it. But I am mortified, appalled, and ashamed that the Catholic teachers couldn’t influence the talented (and misguided) artist to produce something honest and beautiful instead of a cheap piece of political agitprop — which they actually hung in the Cardinal Ritter student art gallery.