The phrase “kill cops” in a painting by an Allegheny College student provoked outrage on social media over the weekend and led the artist and college to remove the piece from public display on the school’s campus.
The painting consisted of multiple large sections depicting what the college called “an urban street scene” with a variety of phrases, including “jaws,” “big cat” and “alien luv” with a heart symbol in place of the vowel. A close-up photo of the “kill cops” phrase is what drew the ire of more than 1,000 on social media.
Among those who took offense to the phrase was Crawford County Prothonotary Emmy Arnett, who tagged the college in a post immediately after seeing a photo of the phrase posted on Facebook Sunday.
“Shame on you Allegheny College for allowing this to hang on your walls,” Arnett wrote, adding an emoji indicating sadness and anger. “I hope the FOP finds another venue for their concert.”
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 97, the union of Meadville’s city police department, is scheduled to host its 45th annual Country Music Show at Allegheny on March 17. The concert has been held on campus for years.
"Maybe the artist had good intentions," Lodge 97 wrote, in part, on its Facebook page. "Art is open for individual interpretation. However.... Freedom of expression does come with consequences. It is known that some employees of Allegheny asked administrators for the picture to be removed because of the Kill Cops portion. Their request was ignored even with a warning that the depiction could be inflammatory."
Within a few hours of a photo of the painting being posted, the college’s official Facebook account posted a response indicating the painting had been removed and defending the student’s work of art.
On Monday, the college emailed a statement to the Tribune:
"The student artist, the Art Department, and Allegheny College do not condone violence toward police or anyone else. A photograph of a small portion of a large-format artwork in a studio space on the Allegheny College campus has been shared widely on social media. The space, located in the Art Department, is a workspace for students to work on their class projects. This space is not a gallery; the pieces in that space are not part of a formal exhibit. The artwork in question, when viewed fully, documents an urban street scene.
"The intent from the artist is to call for an end to mindless violence and the language that leads to it, just the opposite from the context being circulated on social media. But, because of this unintended consequence, the student artist has removed the piece from the public access area. To further this conversation, the Art Department and the artist will offer a panel discussion to the campus community later in the semester. The College will also continue to review its policies and procedures, always with the goal of living all of the values articulated in our Statement of Community."
A day after her post, Arnett said she still felt the same way as when she was “immediately infuriated” upon encountering it on Facebook. She was unpersuaded by the argument that the painting’s full context affected the meaning of the phrase.
“Whatever the context, it says, ‘kill cops.’” she said Monday.
Lodge 97 President Greg Beveridge said the lodge has not been contacted by the college and it did not start the controversy.