Bay Area Police Call for Pig-Headed Cop Painting’s Removal from U.S. Capitol

Bay Area police unions joined law enforcement groups around the country Thursday calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove this painting, "Untitled #1 by high school student David Pulphus from the U.S. Capitol complex.

Bay Area police unions joined law enforcement groups around the country Thursday calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove this painting, "Untitled #1," by high school student David Pulphus, from the U.S. Capitol complex. (Photo: Courtesy of David Pulphus)

Bay Area police unions joined law enforcement groups around the country Thursday calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove a painting from the U.S. Capitol complex.

A letter jointly sent by police unions around the country, including those in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose states:

“Our law enforcement organizations, representing over 27,000 law enforcement professionals, strongly urge you to exercise the extraordinary power you possess as Speaker of the House of Representatives to immediately remove the reprehensible and repugnant ‘art’ on display in our nation’s Capitol that depicts police officers as Pigs intent on gunning down innocent people.”

The work in question, “Untitled #1” by David Pulphus, who was a high school student in St. Louis, Missouri, at the time he made the painting, depicts the unrest in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown in 2014.  Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer after robbing a convenience store. In the painting, cops with the heads of boars (a type of pig) aim guns at the protesters.

Bay Area police unions joined law enforcement groups around the country calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove this painting from the US Capitol complex. The artist's father Jonathan Pulphus says his son is taking the controversy in stride. "He understands that freedom of speech applies to everyone. They are entitled to their own opinion as well."
Bay Area police unions joined law enforcement groups around the country calling on House Speaker Paul Ryan to remove this painting from the US Capitol complex. The artist’s father Jonathan Pulphus says his son is taking the controversy in stride. “He understands that freedom of speech applies to everyone. They are entitled to their own opinion as well.” (Photo: Courtesy of David Pulphus)

The acrylic painting has been on display for months after it won an annual  art contest put on by Missouri Democrat William Lacy Clay last May. A number of members of Congress sponsor art competitions, though they don’t judge the art themselves. Clay was not a judge in this particular contest.

But Paul Kelly of the San José Police Officers Association says the work is “hateful” and “basically paints all law enforcement essentially as racists.”

Kelly says attacks against uniformed law enforcement officers are on the rise and that Pulphus’ artwork could incite more violence. “There could be people out there that continue to be angry, are mentally ill,” Kelly says. “False narratives that continue to be pushed out could push them over the edge.”

Police deaths have not spiked in the last two years, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. But the letter from the police unions calls the painting, “incredibly disrespectful to the families of those killed in the line of duty.”

Artist David Pulphus and Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Missouri) next to Pulphus's painting in the U.S. Capitol complex
Artist David Pulphus and Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Missouri) next to Pulphus’s painting in the U.S. Capitol complex (Photo: Jonathan Pulphus)

Pulphus’ father Jonathan Pulphus says his son — now a freshman at St. Louis Community College–Meramec — is taking the controversy in his stride. “He understands that freedom of speech applies to everyone,” Pulphus says. “They are entitled to their own opinion as well. The painting is far more dynamic than just the depiction of cops. The piece speaks volumes covering a variety of themes. Basically, this is just his interpretation of his experiences thus far.”

Congressman Clay has refused to take down the work located in the tunnel that connects the Longworth House Office Building and the Capitol. “The U.S. Capitol is a symbol of freedom, not censorship,” writes Clay in a statement. “The young artist chose his own subject and the painting will not be removed.”

Speaker Ryan has not yet responded to the police unions’ letter.

  • David Bryan

    This article completely fails to mention that the painting also depicts the young black male being shot by police as having a tail and the head and face of a wolf. This is why this painting is so good. It shows how some in each group view the other.

    The cop sees the black youth as a predator, a wolf that needs to be put down. The protesters see the police as pigs killing them. This is a good depiction of the situation we’re in, and I don’t think the work is disrespectful to the police nor is it intended to be.

    • JBQ21

      Are you naïve?

  • Hillary Clintub

    An alternative solution would be to allow police associations to display a painting of their own depicting their view of feral blacks right beside this one. I’m sure it would be interesting to see the opposing depictions juxtaposed.

  • mic koole

    Can I post a picture depicting blacks as muggers and thugs with guns they wont drop?

  • JBQ21

    You have to understand the nature of the school from which David Pulphus just graduated. Cardinal Ritter High School in St. Louis is a Catholic school in name only. It was completed in 2003 at a cost of 26 million next door to St. Louis University with the Archdiocese of St. Louis chipping in 8 million according to the Riverfront Times. In the history of the school which was founded at another location in 1979 in a poor section of town, there has never been a white student. Actually, the school brags that it is a Baptist institution and attends religious functions as such. It is at least 95% non Catholic. Recently, the African priest who has served as the chaplain was removed and the wife of the principal (Michael and Juanita Blackshear) took his place.

Author

Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow is KQED's South Bay arts reporter, covering arts and culture in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Counties. She also guest hosts for  The California Report and Forum, files stories for NPR and hosts a podcast called Love in the Digital Age.

Her passion for public radio was born as an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley, writing movie reviews for KALX-FM. After finishing one degree in English, she got another in journalism, landed a job at Marketplace in Los Angeles, and another at KPCC, before returning to the Bay Area to work at KQED.

She spent more than seven years hosting The California Report, and over the past 20 years has won a Peabody and three Edward R. Murrow Awards (one for covering the MTA Strike, her first assignment as a full-time reporter in 2000 as well as numerous other honors including from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Radio Television News Directors Association and the LA Press Club.
Follow @rachaelmyrow

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