police brutality sets off controversy
The artists attached statements with their thoughts to the silkscreens.
by Jessica Remo ---- May 15, 2015 ---- NJ Advance Media for NJ
WESTFIELD — Artwork depicting scenes of police brutality displayed in a Westfield High School art show has set off a firestorm of comments from police supporters who have called the images "a gross misrepresentation," "ignorant" and "one-sided."
The artwork depicts images of officers with guns drawn, a target on a silhouette with his hands up, a bloodied body stabbed by a police shield and other scenes on a poster board that reads "Law Enforcement - Police Brutality." The silkscreens were part of an annual project where students depict their takes on controversial topics, according to a student.
"We submitted several different topics of our choice and finally narrowed them down to three - Law Enforcement- Police Brutality, Modern Technology Advances and Gender Equality," said student Kayla McMillan. "The students were allowed to choose either side of the arguments and were told they would not be in trouble for their own opinions."
The images went viral after commenters took the the school's Facebook review page.
Laurie Maloney, who was born in Westfield and is a retired Woodbridge police officer, said she heard about the controversy all the way in Texas via Facebook.
"It really incensed me that this was so one-sided," she told NJ Advance Media. "I'm all for the First Amendment, believe me. I'm not defending any police officers who are bad, but you can't lump 900,000 people that work for law enforcement in the same category. What's even more frightening is they brought grammar school children through this show. When I was young, we were told the police were good and if you had problem to go to the police. Showing these pictures to kids could cause them to be afraid of police, and I think that's wrong."
Both Maloney, McMillan, and dozens of others voiced their thoughts in support of and against the art in the comments on the school's Facebook review page.
"After all, art is expression, whether one agrees or disagrees with it," McMillan told NJ Advance Media. "Unfortunately, some students had graphic images to display their opinions, and apparently some adults disagree with those images. Which is fine, except they're all handling it very immaturely. I simply commented to explain the project to them. To make them realize our teacher isn't forcing us to think this way, that's just how those kids felt."
The controversy over the artwork also made Fox News last night.
Westfield Board of Education member Brendan Galligan said he had mixed feelings about the artwork.
"On one hand, art is supposed to provoke discussion, and the display has clearly done so. On the other, I firmly believe that the schools are charged with helping students become productive, respectful members of society," Galligan said. "That includes fostering a working relationship between students and law enforcement officers. I believe the display to be in bad taste, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it, or something similar, should ever be banned in the future. That's a slippery slope for government (even the local school board) to go down. We need to work with our students, to change the perception that the police are the enemy."
I have worked closely with law enforcement for over 20 years and have the utmost respect for the men and women who put themselves on the line each day to keep our communities safe. Our schools support and respect our police department and law enforcement officers. We work cooperatively on a daily basis with the police department and will continue to do so. Our 2 ½ day district art show, which featured hundreds of pieces of artwork created by students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, is now closed. The art project in question included drawings and captions depicting different viewpoints on a current controversial issue which was chosen by a small group of students. The teacher was attempting to encourage the students to look at more than one side of an issue. One student, for example, had drawn a poster he had seen online during the unrest in another state. The student then wrote his observation that people often rush to judgment before hearing what the real story is.
I am sorry that information that has been passed along via social media and elsewhere has not told the entire story and has led some to believe that we do not respect law enforcement. We do, and we are teaching our students to do the same.