January 11, 2017
Usually, people are upset about what's done in the Capitol -- not what's hanging in it. That all changed at the end of last week, when House Democrats and Republicans almost came to blows over a controversial piece of student art on the wall. "The U.S. Capitol represents many things to different people," Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) argued, "but one thing it's not is a modern art museum." The piece in question is the work of an 18-year-old Missouri student with a bone to pick with police.
In what was meant to be a political statement on Ferguson, he painted a police officer as a pig pointing a gun at an African-American person. Not surprisingly, law enforcement groups everywhere are outraged. Andy Maybo, president of The Fraternal Order of Police District of Columbia Lodge #1 said, "This piece of art, which depicts officers as pigs, is both offensive and disgusting. During a time in our society when tensions are so high that someone can be offended by a single word, this painting does nothing but attack law enforcement to its core. The fact that a member of Congress would advocate and praise such a painting is reprehensible. We, in law enforcement, regardless of the police department we work for, are held to higher standards that certain Members of Congress now have made a mockery of."
Rep. Hunter agreed, and on Friday, he took the picture off the wall and walked it straight to the office of Congressman Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), whose district sponsored it. Within hours, the painting was back. But not for long. The tug-of-war continued as Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Brian Babin (R-Texas), and Dana Rohrabaceher took turns taking the artwork down. "It doesn't belong in the U.S. Capitol," Hunter told reporters. "It's that simple. It violates the rules of the art competition. You cannot have offensive things in the competition and this does." His Missouri colleague disagrees -- so much so that he's threatened to have Hunter arrested.
Good luck, the Iraqi veteran said. "The Capitol Police aren't going to arrest me for taking down a picture that portrays them as pigs." Especially not now, as the rash of police killings continues to rock a country more deeply divided on race than before President Obama. According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, more police officers were shot by civilians in 2016 than the last five years. And the nightmare continued this week, as Master Sgt. Debra Clayton was gunned down in the line of duty in Orlando. Like many of the victims, she was an African American who paid the ultimate price for wearing the badge that too many now despise. As Rep. Hunter tried to remind people:
"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."
As a former police officer, I understand risks of a job that requires you to interact with some of society's most violent and malevolent individuals. But the danger has grown exponentially as a result of the lawlessness we witnessed in the last eight years from the Obama administration combined with the incitement of hatred toward those who are tasked with upholding the laws of society. The personal toll on law enforcement officials and their families is unnecessarily driving good men and women from the ranks of law enforcement. Their families see the growing threat and want them to get out before they're the next target of the #BlackLivesMatter rage. And tragically, no one seems to be spared in this blind backlash. Black and Hispanic officers are being hunted down at a rate just as high -- if not higher -- than their white colleagues.
But the impact doesn't stop with the law enforcement community. The impact on law abiding citizens in many communities is staggering. For every criminal on a corner, there's a mom or a dad living in a crime-ridden neighborhood trying to protect their children while trying to inspire and equipping them to rise above their surroundings. #BlackLivesMatter is not just an attack on the police. It's an attack on justice in America. The rule of law is the key to keeping neighborhoods safe and giving all our children the hope of a future.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.