A student art project depicting a police officer and bearing the slogan “Join the Force & Get Away With Murder” was removed from a Jefferson Parish exhibit over the weekend and later sparked outrage on social media sites from those who disagree with its message.
The exhibit, held at the Oakwood Mall in Terrytown, ran from Friday to Sunday, but teachers staffing the event removed the poster Saturday afternoon after receiving complaints, said Tina Chong, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson Parish public schools.
The poster showed a white police officer wearing a patch that included a pig’s face. He was holding a nightstick and pointing at the viewer in a way reminiscent of World War II-era recruitment posters featuring Uncle Sam. Behind him were black and brown silhouettes holding their hands up.
The school system did not identify the student, other than to say that he or she attends John Ehret High School in Marrero.
Reaction on the Facebook page West Bank Consumer Reports, which allows people to post their experiences at various businesses throughout the West Bank, was overwhelmingly negative, with commenters criticizing the artist, the parents, the exhibit and the school’s teachers and administrators.
Some noted the mall was a scene of a fatal shooting on Christmas Eve; Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies apprehended the shooter. Some said they would no longer shop at the mall.
Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts weighed in on the page to call the piece “disgusting” and say the teacher who allowed it to be created “deserves no place in a classroom.”
“If we continue to label an entire profession with such hatred and ridicule, then this entire nation will end up like NOPD, struggling to fill its force to protect their community,” he wrote. “Who in their right mind would encourage a son or daughter to enter into this profession when certain folks are doing things such as this?”
School Board member Mark Morgan said he contacted the superintendent after hearing about the piece. He said the student has the right to free speech but the piece wasn’t appropriate for the exhibit because it “promoted a message of violence.”
School Board President Cedric Floyd said the controversy didn’t strike him as something that rose to the level of the board’s attention.
The piece appeared to evoke the shooting last year by police in Ferguson, Missouri, of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown and the protests and riots that followed. The silhouettes with their arms raised seemed to recall the “Hands up, don’t shoot” slogan that emerged from the protests. A federal investigation later found that reports that Brown had his hands up when he was shot were not true.
The controversy echoed another from St. Tammany Parish in 2012, when a display of political cartoons at a Slidell junior high school included one that depicted President Barack Obama with what appeared to be a bullet hole in his head.
The teacher supervising that project said the dot on the president’s temple was put there accidentally, but the teacher was fired.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.