Cheers to Illustrator Mary Engelbreit for "In the USA"

August 28, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


Mary Engelbreit is a well-known St. Louis graphic artist and children's book illustrator whose work, as put it, "typically epitomizes 'non-controversial' art: She makes comforting cartoon illustrations of apple-cheeked children, often accompanied by cheerful slogans about friendship and family." When she heard about the police killing of Michael Brown, she was "just appalled and heartbroken." She says it was "devastating" to see how the police treated Michael Brown's mother: "She was trying to get to him while he was lying on the street and of course they couldn't let her near him. I started crying. And I started drawing."

The newspaper headline reads: "Hands Up! Don't Shoot." Art by Mary Engelbreit.

The result was a work titled "In the USA." Engelbreit writes on her Facebook page that she often does personal drawings that other people never see. "But," she says, "these events unfolding now in my hometown and across the country , shining a light on the ugly racism that still runs rampant in our country, made me think that maybe this drawing could help in some small way." So she posted the work online, and offered prints of the illustration for sale, with the proceeds going to the Michael Brown Jr. Memorial fund—"because I was so heartbroken that he was left lying in the middle of the street for 4 hours, which I think showed an astounding lack of human decency on the part of Ferguson authorities. I want our donation to show Michael's family that we and so many other people think he deserved much better than being treated like that, no matter what the facts turn out to be surrounding this case."

She received a lot of support from all over the U.S. on her Facebook page, like one person who wrote, "I've been a fan of your art for years, and my respect for you have increased 1000%!" But she also received a flood of negative reactions, including ugly pro-police and blatantly racist comments. In response, she wrote on her Facebook page about why she had done the drawing, and added: "I also thought about disabling the comments today and just let those that wanted to buy the print do so. But then I thought, Well, I posted it—I should see this through to the bitter end. However, today, if anyone uses words like 'thug' or 'animal' or any other derogatory words to describe their fellow human beings, their comment will be deleted. That's not free speech, that's hate speech, and you can go pedal your hatred and bigotry on someone else's Facebook page." Facebook removed the post, supposedly because of complaints that the post was "offensive." Engelbreit didn't back down—she reposted it, and says that she has heard from Facebook representatives who apologized and reinstated her post.

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