Cop painting to be removed from Capitol complex next week

Cop painting to be removed from Capitol complex next week
© Greg Nash

After a week-long tug of war between Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and House Republicans, a controversial painting depicting police officers as animals displayed in the Capitol complex is coming down for good.

The painting had been displayed in a tunnel connecting the Capitol and two House office buildings as part of an annual high school student art competition. But conservative media outlets only took notice in the last month, leading individual GOP lawmakers to personally remove it from the wall three times over the past week.

Rep. Dave ReichertDavid (Dave) George ReichertLymphedema Treatment Act would provide a commonsense solution to a fixable problem Yoder, Messer land on K Street Ex-GOP lawmaker from Washington joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Wash.), a former sheriff, asked the Architect of the Capitol on Wednesday to review whether the painting violated rules of the student art competition that prohibit "subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.” The competition guidelines adhere to the policy of the House Office Building Commission, which is currently controlled by GOP leaders.

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Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanIs Joe Biden finished? Krystal Ball previews fifth Democratic debate Former Speaker Boehner's official portrait unveiled MORE's (R-Wis.) office informed Reichert on Friday that the Architect of the Capitol concluded the artwork did indeed violate the rules. The painting will be removed on Tuesday.

The artist, David Pulphus, is Clay's constituent. The congressman represents the town of Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager in 2014, sparking nationwide protests.

Clay's office didn't immediately have a response Friday night.

Throughout the past week, Clay has defended the artwork as freedom of expression and challenged those offended by the painting to consider why his constituent feels that some police officers behave in an "animalistic" way toward the black community.

The painting has turned into a racially charged proxy fight over attitudes toward law enforcement and freedom of speech.

Tensions escalated over the last week to the point that Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said "we might just have to kick somebody's ass" if another lawmaker tried to remove the painting.

Pulphus's artwork features a confrontation between two police officers closely resembling feral pigs drawing their guns at a protester depicted as a black panther. Adding to the furor is that the location in the tunnel is near a Capitol Police security checkpoint.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), an Iraq War veteran, was the first lawmaker to unilaterally remove the painting last Friday and return it to Clay's office.

Clay then held a ceremony to re-hang the painting on Tuesday surrounded by fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Within hours, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) took it down for a second time, and Clay promptly restored it again.

But that still wasn't the end of it. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Brian Babin (R-Texas) removed it together shortly afterward, forcing Clay to return it for a third time in one day.

Since then, someone – the identity unknown by Clay's office – has taped above the painting an image of the American flag with a highlighted blue stripe, a symbol of support for law enforcement.

Reichert called the painting a "slap in the face to the countless men and women who put their lives on the line everyday on behalf of our safety and freedom" in a statement on Friday.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have countered that they find statues of Confederate leaders displayed in prominent places in the Capitol personally offensive, yet haven't tried to unilaterally remove them.

The cops painting has been in a highly trafficked underground tunnel used by hundreds of staff, lawmakers and visitors every day, but not in the Capitol itself.