The U.S. Capitol represents many things to different people, but one thing it’s not is a modern art museum.
Every year, Members of Congress host an art competition in their congressional districts and the winners—selected through a variety of ways—are given the honor of having their artwork displayed in the U.S. Capitol for the world to see.
With the artwork, creativity is not in short supply. The artists are talented and each piece of art that is created—consisting of diverse mediums and styles—either convey a subtle message or project a clear, defining statement.
One less than subtle painting that was selected in last year’s competition depicted a scene from Ferguson, Missouri. In the foreground are police officers with their weapons drawn in what appears to be a confrontation with unarmed citizens.
If that were the image alone, it might have been more tolerable—even if disliked. What made the painting a subject of national controversy is that it depicts the police officers as pigs. And they’re not the rotund pink kind or anything like Wilber from Charlotte’s Web.
Rather, the police officers are depicted as warthogs or some wild pig with tusks protruding from the mouth and curving upward. In military speak—there’s a reason why the Air Force’s A-10 attack aircraft is nicknamed the warthog. Yes, it can kill, but it has a less-than-beautiful outward appearance, thus the nickname.
Applied to police officers and law enforcement of all kinds, the image is neither complimentary nor salutary. It’s offensive. And law enforcement organizations and others were right to call for its removal—even though that’s not why it came down.
After a Friday morning meeting with my House Republican colleagues, where the painting was a subject of conversation, I walked by the piece of artwork hanging on the wall in the Capitol. And I couldn’t help but think of all of America’s law enforcement, in addition to our military men and women, who put their lives on the line every day.
I thought of all the men and women who honorably and faithfully wear a badge, who protect our communities and streets. I thought too of our collective obligation of a society to uphold these defenders of law and justice, even though too it is right that decision makers hear and respond properly to instances when law enforcement does overstep.
So as an American citizen and a former Marine who supports law enforcement, I took matters into my own hands. I unscrewed the painting from the wall and returned it to the Democratic Congressman who represents the award winner.
Hanging in an individual Congressional office, there’s no real room for complaint. Hanging in a museum or on display in a gallery, that’s fine. But a painting of that kind—projecting the message it does—does not belong in the U.S. Capitol.
My intent was to make a statement—just as the artist and his or her endorsers did. Call it my own form of expression.
There is a thin blue line on which police officers stand in protection of us all. They deserve our respect and appreciation. And if ever there’s a poor decision on the part of one or a few, it does not reflect the true character and commitment of an entire organization of men and women nationwide committed to protect and serve the public.
There’s nothing inclusive or healing when police officers are referred to as swine. Even if the painting is put back where it once hung, at least the message was sent to America’s police departments and law enforcement that their service is valued.
For that reason alone, it was all worth it.