Free Speech? Congressman Removes Ferguson Student’s Police Brutality Art on Capitol Hill

Free Speech? Congressman Removes Ferguson Student’s Police Brutality Art on Capitol Hill

On January 3rd members of the U.S. House swore to uphold the Constitution on the first day of the 115th Congress — that would include the first amendment and freedom of speech. Three days later, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter had other ideas.

Rep. Hunter isn’t known as the most active and prolific member of the House when it comes to legislative activity even as Republicans have controlled the House majority by a large margin.

But on morning of January 6, 2017, in a long white hallway tunnel that leads to the House side of the hall9U.S. Capitol, Hunter took action. He removed a piece of art from a wall in the Capitol complex a Fo News personality and some police groups found offensive.  After removing the painting seen above, Hunter carried it to the office of Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO). 

The art had been hanging among hundreds of other pieces from the districts of other members of Congress since June.  The winning students participated in the annual High School Art Competition called “An Artistic Discovery: The High School Art Competition, Recognizing and Encouraging The Creative Endeavors of Our Nation’s Young Artists.”  The art is typically judged by a few members of the each community. 

The student artist, David Pulphus, depicts a street scene in St. Louis that includes a protest march, a sign that reads “racism kills” and three uniformed officers. One is depicted as what appears to be a horse, one as what appears to be a boar or pig with long teeth and a third, seen at the lower right of the painting, is a Black police officer leading a black person away. Two of the three officers have guns drawn and one is pointing it at a person in a red shirt depicted as what appears to be a wolf.

Members of Congress often brag about carrying the U.S. Constitution in their pocket. But carrying a piece of paper and living the truth of the document has often become two different issues. 

The art Rep. Hunter removed was likely related to the August 2014 shooting of teenager Michael Brown which took place in Lacy Clay’s district which includes Ferguson and St. Louis, Mo. Brown’s shooting death at the hands of a police officer gained national attention and put attention on the issue of police brutality.  The recent trial of former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager is also in the news. Slager shot Walter Scott in the back five times in the back in April 2015. 

Pulphus won the annual High School art competition last year and his art, along with all the other 2016 winners, is scheduled to be replaced to install the 2017 winners in May. The painting had been hanging for months without much notice. It wasn’t until Fox News host Eric Bolling declared the painting should be removed on the Fox News show “The Five” on December 29. 

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus will have a response next week as Congress returns to session.