A painting on display on Capitol Hill has wound up engulfing House Republicans, Democrats, and law enforcement in an ever-widening feud over freedom of speech and artistic depictions of police.
The painting shows animals in police uniforms pointing their weapons at black men. It was chosen to be on display in the Cannon tunnel, which connects the Capitol to two office buildings, by judges in Rep. Lacy Clay’s (D-MO) district as part of the U.S. Congressional Art Competition.
The feud began after law enforcement associations from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and New York wrote a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) asking for the painting to be taken down. The letter cited violence against police as a reason why the art was inappropriate. It neglected to mention the many people, especially people of color, who were killed by law enforcement in recent years.
The painting stayed up, so last week, Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, decided to take action. He took the painting down himself and delivered it to Clay’s office.
According to Politico, Clay then asked the Congressional Black Caucus, of which he is a member, to stand with him “in supporting artistic expression and decorum and against censorship.” Clay’s chief of staff, Yvette Cravins, pointed out that there are many pieces of art in the Capitol that might offend CBC members—such as ones that depict segregationists, white supremacists, and slavery advocates. Buzzfeed’s Paul McLeod echoed this fact when he took his own tour of the Capitol.
Astonishingly, that wasn’t the end of the affair. Clay hung the painting back up on Tuesday, but it was taken down again. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) did it this time, telling a Fox News reporter he “could not, in good conscience, continue to walk by a painting” that depicted police this way. Then, Clay put the painting back up on the wall again. Then, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Brian Babin (R-TX) arrived together to take the painting down and bring it to Clay’s office yet again.
Clay, whose district includes Ferguson, told The Hill that the issue is far larger than just a painting. “Historically, the African American community has had a painful, tortured history with law enforcement in this country,” he said. “The larger, much more fundamental question is, why does this young artist feel this way? And what can we do as leaders of a compassionate and just nation to remedy that?”