Artwork depicting cops as animals permanently removed from Capitol complex

Artwork depicting cops as animals permanently removed from Capitol complex
© Greg Nash

Capitol authorities permanently removed the controversial student painting depicting a confrontation between black protesters and police officers portrayed as animals early Tuesday morning.

The Architect of the Capitol, which oversees maintenance of the Capitol complex, determined late last week that the painting violated the House Office Building Commission policies that prohibit artwork with "subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”

The painting had been displayed since last June in a highly trafficked tunnel connecting two House office buildings and the Capitol as part of an annual high school student art competition. But conservative media outlets only took notice in recent weeks, leading multiple House Republicans to take unilateral action even though they'd walked past it countless times before.

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The artist, David Pulphus, is a constituent of Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district includes Ferguson, where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in 2014 and sparked nationwide protests over police brutality toward African-Americans.

Clay held a public event a week ago with fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus to re-hang the painting after Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) personally removed it four days prior. Yet other House Republicans found ways to take it down two more times before the end of the day, forcing Clay to return the painting to its place on the wall a total of three times in less than eight hours.

Clay said Tuesday that he will display the painting in his Capitol Hill office. He also plans to try to reverse the Architect of the Capitol's decision to remove it.

He dismissed the conclusion that the painting violates the building commission rules, to which the art competition adheres, given that it had been displayed for months without controversy.

"The assertion that the painting did not comply with the rules of the Congressional Art Competition is arbitrary and insulting. Like the other 400+ entries, this painting was accepted and approved by the Congressional Art Competition last spring, and it has been peacefully displayed in a public forum for more than six months," Clay said in a statement.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) suggested GOP leaders focus on the painting's message.

“I support our police, but I also support the rights of those in the communities we represent to express frustrations with their day-to-day realities," Richmond said.

"Rather than engage in a thoughtful dialogue about what would motivate an 18 year-old to express himself in this way, the Architect of the Capitol and Congressional leaders have chosen to exercise their power to suppress a child’s free expression.”

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, had asked the Architect of the Capitol in a letter last week to review whether the painting violated rules of the student art competition, which adhere to the policies of the House Office Building Commission. The commission is currently controlled by GOP leaders, making it likely the artwork would come down.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have said the artwork should be allowed to stay in the Capitol complex, citing freedom of expression. But Republicans, along with law enforcement organizations, were offended by the painting and called for its removal.

The painting features a confrontation between two police officers depicted as feral pigs and a black protester portrayed as a black panther. Another police officer depicted as a human is shown escorting a protester off to the side.

--This report was updated at 1:10 p.m.