The loud sounds and vivid images contained within the Main Gallery of the University of New Mexico Art Museum provide an aggressive contrast to the calm outside. Between Sept. 11 and Dec. 12 the University of New Mexico Art Museum hosted an exhibit entitled Necessary Force: Art in the Police State. The show displayed the work of over 30 artists whose provocative paintings, photographs, and sculptures depicted police violence throughout the country. Necessary Force was created as a response to the increased media coverage of police brutality in recent years. Notable pieces included an overturned police cruiser whose radio was set to broadcast police transmissions from events that ended in death or injury, photos that documented police brutality during the Civil Rights movement, and a display of harmless objects, like lint and candy, which police mistook for weapons and consequently injured or killed their owners.

The exhibit, however, faced criticism for allegedly projecting a negative image of the police and unfairly stigmatizing innocent officers who are not involved with the actions of their colleagues. The curators of the exhibit, however, maintain that Necessary Force did not condemn all police officers, but rather the abuse of power by some. The fact that the majority of officers behave in a blameless, just manner does not excuse the wrongs of the minority, particularly when these wrongs resulted in  death and injury.

Necessary Force underlines the urgent need to explore and understand criticism directed towards the police. Police brutality is by no means a new phenomenon, and with art spanning several decades, the exhibit suggests a disturbing trend of negligence that continues to haunt the United States. Although the problems that surround American police forces may be unpleasant, they need to be addressed before the public’s trust in law enforcement collapses completely.

The exhibit is one of many recent demonstrations around the country that have aimed to deepen conversation about the mistakes of the U.S. police force. By opening such discussions to the public, Necessary Force removes the stigma that accompanies criticizing the police. But, even then, the exhibit is only one part of a larger solution. Too many lives have been lost because of the United States’ continued nonchalance and refusal to take more drastic measures. Dialogue covering these abuses must no longer be restricted to galleries and occasional news segments; there needs to be a collective movement to change the fundamental way America addresses these injustices. Police violence cannot be ignored; now that it has been exposed, it must be confronted.

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