House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has not yet removed a controversial painting, currently displayed prominently in the Capitol Building, that depicts police officers as pigs. The Republican leader told radio host Mike Gallagher: “My take is this is disgusting and it’s not befitting the Capitol. This isn’t a question of First Amendment rights. Of course this young person has the right to do something like this…but we have rules that govern these paintings. So it’s not as if you have a Constitutional right to hang whatever painting you want in the House hallway in the Capitol gallery.”
The painting won the prize at the annual Congressional Art Competition for the district of Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. The student artist attends a high school in Ferguson, Missouri, where riots and strife broke out two years ago as the result of a deadly confrontation between a white police officer and a black man.
Ryan said, however, that the painting violated competition rules because it depicts “subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature.”
Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), a former lawman, is discussing with the Architect of the Capitol whether the painting is indeed appropriate for display at the Capitol.
Ryan said, “This is not a free-for all contest where anything can go in the Capitol. There are rules that govern this. We see that this does not fit the rules and so we are processing that decision right now.” He added, “We have rules of that govern what paintings can go up on here. This one slipped by for some reason.” When Gallagher asked whether Ryan is confident that the offending painting will be removed, Ryan responded, “I am.”
The painting has sparked debate between Republicans and black Democrats over its appropriateness. It was removed by Republican members of Congress, who then returned it to Clay’s office. It was subsequently re-hung several times by Clay since January 9 until mid-week. While Clay wants to charge Rep. Duncan Hunter *R-CA) with theft, Capitol Hill police affirmed that it is unlikely to happen as she would wish. Hunter has said that he will refrain from removing the painting again.
The painting shows a clash between protesters and police in a street scene. Armed police are depicted with heads that resemble wild hogs. One protester appears to resemble a predatory animal, while other protesters hold up signs reading: “History,” “Justice Now” and “Racism Kills.” It is among the hundreds of works of art that are hunt along the walls of a tunnel used by members of Congress to travel between the Capitol and the office buildings of the House of Representatives. It has been hanging for at least six months.
When word reached Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, that the painting had been removed, POLITICO reported that he said, “”We may have to kick somebody's ass and stop them!"
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.