The Madison, Wisconsin, Public Library faced backlash recently from police advocacy groups for their display of a controversial painting depicting the image of three riot police pointing their guns at a small, toy-gun wielding African-American child.
The piece, entitled “Don’t Shoot,” by artist Mike Lroy is part of a larger collection of pieces displayed in partnership with 100 State, an organization designed to foster and develop creativity and entrepreneurial development. The collection is designed to capture the varying perspectives and emotions of artists in the Madison area in order to provoke discussion. As Madison Public Library Director, Greg Mickells, commented, “Some of the work will reflect a wide range of views, expressions and interests and may be unorthodox or controversial.”
With recent events across the United States inciting anger, protest, and even physical violence, Lroy’s painting has provoked conversation, but it is not yet a conversation to have the piece removed from the exhibit. “This is a sensitive time in our community,” said Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPAA) Executive Director Jim Palmer. For Palmer the display is “inflammatory, negative, stereotypical and a slap in the face.”
Other groups, including the Madison Professional Police Officers Association, have also commented that the “storm trooper portrayal of officers who appear to threaten a small child only serves to advance patently negative law enforcement stereotypes.”
In light of the backlash and criticism, though, Lroy stands not only behind his piece but his First Amendment right to freedom of speech. “Art is a positive outlet for expression, emotion and activism,” Lroy wrote in the description accompanying the painting. It is meant “to empower black individuals who are feeling angry, forgotten, and demonized by the mainstream narrative.”
It looks like the public library will also be standing behind Lroy and free speech as well in responding to controversy by inviting the police advocacy groups to make their own statement, which would be displayed alongside the piece — a gesture that not only protects and promotes everyone’s right free speech, but would further enable the library to evoke the discussion the exhibit was originally set up to do.
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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!