Clay returns controversial painting to Capitol Hill wall -

Clay returns controversial painting to Capitol Hill wall

Posted: Updated:
High school student's painting hung by Lacy Clay High school student's painting hung by Lacy Clay

By KEVIN FREKING / Associated Press & Staff

WASHINGTON (AP/ - A high school student's painting of Ferguson, Missouri, with the image of a pig in a police uniform aiming a gun at a protester is back on the wall on Capitol Hill.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., rehung the painting on Tuesday after a Republican lawmaker found it offensive and removed it. Joined by several lawmakers, including other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clay said returning the painting was about defending the Constitution.

"I do not agree or disagree with this painting," Clay said. "But I will fight to defend this young man's right to express himself because his artwork is true for him and he is entitled to that protection under the law."

David Pulphus, 18, won an annual arts competition in Clay's congressional district. His picture portrays events in Ferguson after the shooting of an unarmed teenager set off protests. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., removed the painting last Friday and returned it to Clay's office.

Read: Congressmen battle over painting depicting police as pigs

The Missouri congressman said it is "pathetic" that some Republicans and "alt-right media types" constantly refer to themselves as constitutional conservatives, but don't think the same document protects the free-speech rights of his constituent.

The painting showed a police officer taking aim with signs saying "history" and "stop kill." The police officer has an elongated face with tusks, much like a razorback pig. The background includes the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and a young black man looking out from prison bars. One of the figures also appears to show a protester as a wolf.

A hallway between a House office building and the Capitol is filled with winning artwork from students around the country.

Some police organizations cheered Hunter's actions.

Hunter dismissed the free-speech argument and said GOP leaders will seek to have the architect of the Capitol remove the painting.

"You can't have offensive things in the U.S. Capitol. It violated the arts competition rules," Hunter said.

Clay said he's ready to have that debate. He said there are numerous works of art around the Capitol that he and his constituents find offensive. He specifically cited a portrait of the late Sen. James Eastland of Mississippi, a staunch segregationist, and statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, leaders of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said Hunter was seeking to deflect from his own ethical woes. The House Ethics Committee is looking into possible violations, and the lawmaker had to explain last week after spending $600 in campaign funds to fly a pet rabbit with his family. Hunter later repaid the money as part of more than $60,000 in questionable charges to his campaign. Some of the charges included stays at resorts, video games and a garage door, the San Diego Union-Tribune has reported.

"Any crisis manager will tell you, if you want them to stop talking about your ethics, create another issue. Unfortunately, he picked on an 18-year-old, gifted artist to create his diversion," Richmond said.

Hunter pointed out that other GOP lawmakers took offense to the painting as well.

Tuesday morning, Congressman Clay delivered a statement that read in part:

Seven months ago, I was pleased to welcome David Pulphus, a very talented 18-year old constituent of mine from St. Louis, to this very spot, as we unveiled his painting, entitled “Untitled #1”; the 1st place winner in my annual Congressional Art Competition in Missouri’s 1st congressional district.

For those of you who may not know, many other Members of Congress conduct this contest in their districts as well.  We do not select the artists. We do not approve or disapprove any of the artistic concepts;

And we have no role in judging the competition.

Recently, an alt-right blog calling itself the “International Journalism Review,” which is clearly not an example of either independence or journalism…alleged that this painting, which has been viewed peacefully by thousands of Capitol Hill visitors and staff for months, was offensive to police officers.  

But just two days ago, I appeared at a major public event in St. Louis with police commissioner, Chief Samuel Dotson. And as the leader of the largest police department in the State of Missouri, he publically addressed this manufactured controversy.

He reminded the audience that I have been a strong supporter of law enforcement throughout my three decades of public service.

That includes helping provide local law enforcement with millions of federal dollars to hire new officers, provide them with better training, and provide them with equipment to better protect themselves.

On December 30th, Mr. Eric Bolling, a Fox News Channel commentator, began a campaign to have the student’s winning artwork removed.

That effort at blatant censorship and media manipulation was then exacerbated by one of my colleagues from California, Congressman Duncan Hunter, who took it upon himself to remove the painting, without any permission or proper authority to do so.

So I am very pleased that today, we have restored the winning painting to its assigned location.  But this is really not about a student art competition anymore…it’s about defending the Constitution. 

It is just pathetic that some Republican members and alt-right media types, who constantly refer to themselves as constitutional conservatives, don’t think that same document protects the fundamental free speech rights of my 18-year old constituent.

I do not agree or disagree with this painting.

But I will fight to defend this young man’s right to express himself because his artwork is true for him and he is entitled to that protection under the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that artwork which is intended to make a political statement is fully protected by the 1st Amendment. 

So for every American like me who loves and reveres the U.S. Constitution, freedom of expression, even for artwork that some find offensive is essential to protecting liberty.

That freedom of expression is evident across the U.S. Capitol Complex. 

For instance, there are multiple pieces of artwork on display here that are deeply offensive to me and many of my constituents.

Including images that honor avowed racists and segregationists like the late Senator James Eastland; and statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, who led a treasonous act of rebellion to maintain the cruel institution of slavery which cost the lives of over 600,000 Americans.

Yet these pieces remain on public display.

And there is another critical question that thoughtful American’s must address.

The student artist is a great young man, academically gifted, artistically talented and is now a freshman in college. 

He is doing everything that we encourage young Americans to do to become successful citizens.

His winning entry is a provocative, symbolic representation of the great anger, pain, frustration and deep deficit in trust for local law enforcement that many young African Americas feel in their hearts.

The painting also reflects generations of struggle, sacrifice, abuse of power and tenuous relationships between minorities and a system of justice that still provides equal justice for some…but not for all.

So the larger, much more fundamental question is…why does this young artist feel that way?

And what can we do as leaders of a compassionate and just nation to remedy that?

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press/ All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Powered by Frankly