San Diego congressman removes student painting from Capitol Hill wall after complaints it was offensive

A controversial painting that depicts police officers as animals was removed Friday from a Capitol Hill wall by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) following complaints that it was offensive.

Joe Kasper, chief of staff for the congressman, said Hunter personally took down the painting and delivered it to the Washington office of Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who had sponsored the student competition won by the painting’s creator.

“It made a very strong statement today, and there’s been an outpouring of support,” Kasper said of his boss’ action.

Law enforcement agencies had called for the painting’s removal, and several officers came to Hunter’s office Friday to thank him, Kasper said. The Peace Officers Research Assn. of California and the Fraternal Order of Police also put out statements in support of Hunter, he said.

Steven Engelhardt, a spokesman for Clay, said the congressman may make a statement next week about the issue and whether the painting would be reinstalled.

Kasper said Hunter would not take the painting down again if Clay put it back up.

“He gets along really well with Lacy Clay, who’s four doors down from us,” Kasper said. “This isn’t anything personal. It’s not about him or Hunter.”

The painting was part of the national Congressional Art Competition. Lawmakers sponsor the student competition in their states, but they do not select winners. The controversial 2016 work was created by David Pulphus, who at the time was a senior at Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School in St. Louis.

Named “Untitled #1,” the painting depicts a clash between police and protesters on the street. In it, gun-wielding officers have heads that resemble that of a boar, while one protester appears to be a panther or wolf, and people on the street hold signs that read “History,” “Justice Now” and “Racism Kills.”

The painting was selected as the Missouri winner in May and had hung for months in a tunnel that connects House office buildings to the U.S. Capitol.

Its presence became controversial over the last two weeks when conservative bloggers wrote about it and a Fox News commentator called for its removal.

Law enforcement agencies also had called for it to be taken down.

“I can’t believe it was up there in the first place,” said Gary Moore, president of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Assn. of San Diego County.

Moore said he had no problem with Hunter taking down the painting, which he saw as not helpful after a year when many police officers had been killed in the line of duty.

“It’s certainly not part of the solution,” he said.

As the controversy grew, Clay issued a statement that defended freedom of expression.

“I … would never attempt to approve or disapprove artistic expression,” he said. “The U.S. Capitol is a symbol of freedom, not censorship.”

In a May news release from Clay’s office, the painting was described as “a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Mo., and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society.”

Clay’s district includes Ferguson, where in 2014, riots broke out after a white officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man.

Kasper said the painting was discussed Friday morning in the House Republican Conference, where several representatives said they objected to it.

“When it rises to this level of controversy, somebody should make a move to take it down,” Kasper said. “The funny thing about this is, nobody was sure who had the authority to take it down, so Hunter said, ‘I’ll do it.’ ”

Hunter, who served as a Marine in Iraq, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. But he previously had expressed anger over the painting and said he wanted it removed.

“I’m in the Marine Corps,” he told FoxNews.com. “If you want it done, just call us.”

Kasper said the painting’s location was especially troubling because it was next to an entrance where police officers usually are stationed.

gary.warth@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @GaryWarthUT

Warth writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

 

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UPDATES:

4:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comment from Hunter’s office and additional details throughout.

This article originally was published at 1:20 p.m.

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