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Student painting caught in tug-of-war at U.S. Capitol

by: Patrick Terpstra, Cox Media Group Washington News Bureau Updated:

WASHINGTON -  A painting by a Missouri high school student depicting police brutality has become trapped in a battle between lawmakers who say it should be displayed in the U.S. Capitol complex and those who want it removed.
 
"One man's trash is another man's artwork," said Rep. Hank Johnson, who joined other members of the Congressional Black Caucus Tuesday morning to demand the piece be left on a wall in a tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to lawmaker offices.
 
Later in the day, other lawmakers took it down only to have black caucus members put it back up.
 
The piece's long-term fate is unclear.
 
The art was by a high school student near Ferguson, Mo., who depicted police as animals pointing guns at protesters.
 
Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, took offense and personally removed the work.
 
"It portrays police officers as pigs and it doesn't belong in the U.S. Capitol," Hunter said. "It's that simple."
 
He gave the painting back to Rep. Lacey Clay, D-Mo., who represents the district where the young artist lives.
 
"I don't not agree or disagree with this painting, but I will fight to defend this young man's right to express himself" Clay said at a Tuesday morning news conference with other members of the black caucus.
 
Duncan said the art isn't just offensive, it goes against a rule by the Architect of the Capitol against depicting "contemporary political controversy" like Ferguson unrest.
 
"You can't have offensive things in the U.S. Capitol that violate the art competition rules," Hunter said.
 
Clay said he had approval of the architect's office before hanging the artwork amid hundreds of other pieces from across the country displayed in the tunnel.
 
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., wrote a letter to the architect asking the office to take a fresh look at whether the piece is appropriate.
 
The office did not immediately return our calls.
 
Supporters of the art say they won't back down.  to keep up the fight to have the work displayed.
 
Rep. Alma Adams of North Carolina is a former art teacher.
 
"There are things that I see that are offensive," the Democrat from Charlotte said. "I see hangings and lynchings of people that look like me, but I would dare not go and take that work off the wall."