Oxon Hill High School students gain support for controversial art display from school board

Oxon Hill High School students are standing their ground amid controversy surrounding an art display. Pictures of a new art display in the lobby of the school spread online and on social media Thursday after their original exhibit was taken down earlier this week.

The new display featured two coffins and gravestones that say, "Here lies our freedom of speech." Students were tweeting that it was part of a silent protest on Wednesday. It was quickly taken down by school officials.

Current and former Oxon Hill High School students rallied around the honors art class who created the display. It was part of an assignment on social justice.

The figures in the display represented a white police officer reading obituaries of murdered black men and a black man with a bloodied shirt with his hands up.

It sat in the school's lobby for nearly two weeks until it was taken down Tuesday afternoon ahead of schedule because of complaints flooding in on social media. The school said it also received phone calls from as far as Chicago and California calling it disturbing and offensive.

But two days later, there was a surprise show of support from the Prince George's County Board of Education.

"I would like to make a motion that we give that statement of solidarity in support of their artwork, in support of their rights, in support of what we have asked them to do, and that is to be critical thinkers and to make a difference in their community," said school board member Edward Burroughs III.

The school board members voted unanimously in support of the project. It followed comments from students who turned up at the school board's regularly scheduled meeting.

While many found the display disrespectful to police officers, the students called it a heartfelt expression of art and represented a discussion going on nationwide about police brutality. They said they are being wrongfully censored.

"Our educators didn't teach us what our art expressed -- America did, society did -- and this suppression of our freedom of expression is continuing to teach us," said Maria Mendoza, an Oxon Hill High School student. "Art is supposed to provoke. But if this art offends them, perhaps they should ask themselves why they are not offended by the reality of the art instead."

Although it is unclear whether the original controversial figures will be set back up, more than a thousand people have signed an online petition calling for its return.