“I’d hang it on Duncan’s door if it was up to me. But what I don’t want to do is deflect from the fact that all this is a diversion so people talk about Duncan Hunter removing a painting and picking on an 18-year-old and being a bully as opposed to talking about the fact that he continuously takes things that don’t belong to him. … You can’t be a lawmaker and purposely lawbreak at the same time.”
— Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La) chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus
Descent into art censorship by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-50th District) devolved into a criminal theft investigation Monday.
Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) met with members of the Capitol Police to press theft charges against Hunter who removed the painting Friday and delivered it to Clay’s office as he left a Republican conference meeting where the artwork was discussed.
“He had no right to take that picture down,” Clay said Monday just off the House floor to the Washington Post. “It’s thievery.”
The painting, by a recent high school graduate from Clay’s district, depicts a scene of civil unrest inspired by the 2014 events in Ferguson, Mo., and other recent protests against police led by African Americans. Several figures are depicted as animals, and some pro-police activists have said the rendering evokes derogatory images of police as pigs.
It is part of a national art competition, one of 435 artworks chosen by local panels of artists to hang in the underground tunnel between the Capitol and the Cannon House Office Building.
Some Republican lawmakers have called for the painting to be taken down in recent weeks, but Hunter took matters into his own hands Friday.
Clay is planning to rehang the painting Tuesday morning, according to the Washington Post, joined by members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other sympathetic lawmakers. He emotionally defended the right of the young artist, David Pulphus, to hang his art in the Capitol to reporters Monday.
Pulphus’s family, Clay said, is “full of police officers, so they have respect for police officers. He just doesn’t have respect for police who use the cover of a blue uniform to do animalistic things to people.”
“These are his impressions. Those are his feelings. That’s how he formed his opinion, and he expressed it in his art. So what’s wrong with that?” Clay continued. “Any black parent would tell you that they have to have this conversation with their children about police and how to act around them, so that’s the conversation we need to be having here. Not about taking some kid’s picture off the wall — it should be about, how do we change these attitudes and improve the relationships between police and the black community
The art piece, “Untitled,” was on display in the hallway between the Capitol and adjacent House office buildings. A tunnel leading to the Capitol is filled with paintings and other artwork done by students who enter them in the annual Congressional Art Competition.
The nationwide competition began in 1982 and students around the country submit entries to their representative’s office. Panels of district artists select the winner from each district, and the winning works are displayed for one year.
Fox News reported that an angry Hunter “took matters into his own hands Friday and personally removed a painting depicting police officers as pigs that a colleague had allowed to be displayed at the U.S. Capitol complex.”
“I was angry,” Hunter told FoxNews.com. “I’ve seen the press [reporting] on this for about a week or so. … I’m in the Marine Corps. If you want it done, just call us.”
Hunter said he walked over to the artwork Friday morning with a few colleagues and unscrewed it. He then delivered it to Clay’s office, which is located four doors down from his”
Hunter’s top aide brushed off Clay’s threats of prosecution Monday.
“Hunter has high regard from Congressman Clay, and this is nothing personal,” said Joe Kasper, his chief of staff. “But we’re less than zero percent worried about this whatsoever.”
A Capitol Police spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment Monday on whether the matter remains under investigation. Clay said the police who met with his staff were “befuddled” and gave no clear indication of how they would proceed: “They are trying to figure out what they’re going to do.”
Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said lawmakers had a simple request for Hunter’s treatment: “We want him to get whatever charge a private citizen would get if they walked into the Capitol and took down a painting.”
Kasper said that “that’s misrepresenting the issue significantly,” and compared the Capitol with the “Wild West.” He referred to a 2006 incident in which then-Rep. Cynthia McKinney was accused of striking a police officer who did not recognize her as a member of Congress and stopped her after she talked past a security checkpoint.
“You understand the latitude members are given around the U.S. Capitol complex,” Kasper said. “He’s trying to make a point that this was a form of expression, and rightfully so, but so is taking it down.”
Clay suggested it was a particular affront that a lawmaker would pull down Pulphus’s painting while statues of Confederate leaders such as Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee occupy prominent places in the Capitol. “Two traitors who cost America 600,000 lives,” he said. “They’re treasonous; they should be out of here.”