WASHINGTON (AP) — A high school student's painting of Ferguson, Missouri, with the image of a pig in a police uniform aiming a gun at a protester is back on the wall on Capitol Hill.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., rehung the painting on Tuesday after a Republican lawmaker found it offensive and removed it. Joined by several lawmakers, including other members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clay said returning the painting was about defending the Constitution.
"I do not agree or disagree with this painting," Clay said. "But I will fight to defend this young man's right to express himself because his artwork is true for him and he is entitled to that protection under the law."
David Pulphus, 18, won an annual arts competition in Clay's congressional district. His picture portrays events in Ferguson after the shooting of an unarmed teenager set off protests. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., removed the painting last Friday and returned it to Clay's office.
The Missouri congressman said it is "pathetic" that some Republicans and "alt-right media types" constantly refer to themselves as constitutional conservatives, but don't think the same document protects the free-speech rights of his constituent.
The painting showed a police officer taking aim with signs saying "history" and "stop kill." The police officer has an elongated face with tusks, much like a razorback pig. The background includes the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and a young black man looking out from prison bars. One of the figures also appears to show a protester as a wolf.
A hallway between a House office building and the Capitol is filled with winning artwork from students around the country.
Some police organizations cheered Hunter's actions.
Hunter dismissed the free-speech argument and said GOP leaders will seek to have the architect of the Capitol remove the painting.
"You can't have offensive things in the U.S. Capitol. It violated the arts competition rules," Hunter said.
Clay said he's ready to have that debate. He said there are numerous works of art around the Capitol that he and his constituents find offensive. He specifically cited a portrait of the late Sen. James Eastland of Mississippi, a staunch segregationist, and statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, leaders of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., said Hunter was seeking to deflect from his own ethical woes. The House Ethics Committee is looking into possible violations, and the lawmaker had to explain last week after spending $600 in campaign funds to fly a pet rabbit with his family. Hunter later repaid the money as part of more than $60,000 in questionable charges to his campaign. Some of the charges included stays at resorts, video games and a garage door, the San Diego Union-Tribune has reported.
"Any crisis manager will tell you, if you want them to stop talking about your ethics, create another issue. Unfortunately, he picked on an 18-year-old, gifted artist to create his diversion," Richmond said.
Hunter pointed out that other GOP lawmakers took offense to the painting as well.
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