Police brutality inspires art

Erin Fox, Managing Editor

Imagine my surprise when casually browsing Facebook last month and noticing on the right-hand side of the page that my hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, was the No. 1 top trend.

Indeed, the place I lived for 16 years was trending ahead of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s death sentence, a deadly Amtrak accident, and ISIS.

But why?

Well, the Westfield School District, which I had attended kindergarten through sophomore year of high school, held its annual art show May 12-14, and included an exhibit entitled “Law Enforcement – Police Brutality”.

The art show, which took place in the Westfield High School gymnasium, included 10 silkscreens by Westfield High artists depicting images such as a man being stabbed by a police badge, a gun aimed at fleeing figures, a shadowed figure with his hands up, and more.

High school students created this artwork in order to express their opinions of civil unrest across the country, in what is known as a usually respectful and appreciative environment of controversial art.

But news sources such as Fox News had the audacity to shame the talented teenage students who participated in the exhibit.

Eric Bolling of Fox News proclaimed to the nation on the May 14 segment of “The Five” that “the law enforcement community across the country is outraged” at the exhibit.

“I get the idea of free speech but hey, teachers at Westfield, would you put up an art exhibit showing teachers abusing students? I don’t think you’d do it,” Bolling said on the air. “I’d like to see that thing taken down.”

After this news segment, and reporting from several other local news outlets, thousands of negative comments began pouring onto the Westfield High School Facebook page, mostly from members of law enforcement families.

Are they just trying to save face from an extremely important national issue that high school students across the country are concerned about and are entitled to speak out against?

Did they believe that the art was encouraging teens to extort violence against police?

The job of police officers is to defend our rights, and now thousands of them across the country are jeopardizing freedom of expression and speech because of a high school art show.

Westfield School District Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan – my former superintendent for six years – had to provide a statement because of to the hundreds of emails she received regarding the controversial exhibit.

“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” Dolan read from  her statement.

“Our schools support and respect our police department and law enforcement officers,” she continued. “Our schools and police department work cooperatively daily and will continue to do so.”

Personally, I would like to thank my former classmates who participated for sparking nationwide controversy, for students have right to express themselves.

The problem here is not students utilizing their right to self-expression and free speech. The problem is the public not accepting and respecting these students’ use of free speech.

We should be attacking the problem at hand, not the constitutional right to expose it.