Joining the armies of the easily offended is one group that might, on its face, seem unlikely: Law enforcement. You might think that those we expect to be prepared to protect our rights would have a somewhat thicker skin when it comes to criticism, and would not try to violate the rights of others to express themselves.
Last year, a mural featuring a portrait of Mike Brown with the slogan “Sagging pants is not probable cause” was graffiti-blasted after police in Trenton, New Jersey police expressed concern that it sent the wrong message. More recently, law enforcement coalesced in an attack on Quentin Tarrantino, who had dared to criticize police brutality at an October New York rally.
And now, an association of former FBI agents has insisted that several paintings by Leonard Peltier, the native American activist convicted of shooting two FBI agents in 1975, be removed from an exhibition marking Native American Indian heritage month at the Department of Labor and Industries in Washington State. And they succeeded; the paintings will be removed ahead of schedule.
Of course, just like everyone else, law enforcement officials have free speech rights. A government entity, however, does not have the right to trample the First Amendment so as to spare the feelings of FBI officials. The fact that the Department of Labor and Industries was quick to bend to the demands of the complainers raises serious concerns regarding freedom of artistic expression, a fundamental liberty guaranteed under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – a liberty that is not denied to those serving a criminal sentence, including Leonard Peltier.
The very functioning of a democratic society depends on the ability of a diverse public to voice a variety of opinions without fear of retaliation by the government or intimidation by those supposed to protect our rights.
NCAC is working on the case.