Liberal and conservative lawmakers squabbled Tuesday over whether to hang a controversial social-justice themed painting depicting police officers as pigs in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington.
The painting, called "Untitled #1," was the winning submission by high schooler David Pulphus in Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay's annual art competition in May. Its imagery includes two police officers depicted as anthropomorphic animals, a pig and a horse, pointing guns at what appeared to be a black wolf holding a sign that reads "stop kill." In the background, black human figures can be seen in various positions, including holding megaphones, placed behind bars, seemingly crucified and holding the scales of justice.
"The painting portrays a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society," Clay's office said in a press statement last year.
Clay, who is a member of the Black Congressional Caucus, reportedly did not have a role in judging the contest. The competition was instead decided by an independent panel in his Missouri district, which includes Ferguson, the city where Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot dead by white police officer Darren Wilson in 2014. The incident sparked protests around the country and helped grow Black Lives Matter, an international activist movement calling for social justice.
Republican U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter blasted the painting, which also received criticism from police organizations across the nation, and removed it Friday. The lawmaker reportedly returned the work to Clay's office, calling the picture inappropriate, however, he said he did not touch it after it was rehung Monday. Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn claimed responsibility for taking the piece down the second time around, saying "It doesn't belong here," according to congressional reporter Rema Rahman.
Clay threatened to file a police report against Hunter in response for interfering with the artwork before returning it Tuesday.
"I will be happy to compare my record to anyone in this building," Clay said Tuesday in response, later emphasizing he that he was not "anti-police." He said the painting was about the constitutional rights of expression, according to Fox News. He reportedly returned the painting to the wall once again after Lamborn removed it.
The painting's depiction of police officers as pigs has a history in popular culture. The term "pig" first appeared as a derogatory slang for law enforcement agent in Oxford English Dictionary as early as 1811, however, School for Champions educator Ron Kurtus traces the modern popularity of the slur to an incident that occurred at the 1968 National Democratic Convention. A group called the Youth International Party - whose followers became known as "yippies" - brought a pig to the demonstration, proclaiming it their presidential candidate. When authorities seized the animal, protestors called the police officers "pigs" and media later caught on, cementing the term in popular, anti-establishment youth culture.