Black Lives Matter activists outraged by Douglas County GOP altered ‘can’t breathe’ cartoon

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AURORA | Douglas County Republicans took to Facebook with a reworked political cartoon to slam mask mandates and, apparently, the death of George Floyd in one post.

Local activists pushing for police reform entrenched in the “I Can’t Breathe” meme said they were outraged by the move.

In the original cartoon, made by Kiev artist Andrey Petrenko, an authority figure with a baton and combat boots forces a mask onto a man. The doctored version the county party posted depicts the authority figure as “Polis”, the man being forced into the mask as “Colorado”, and at the bottom “We can’t breathe.”

The post was deleted from the county GOP Facebook page, but not before it caught the eye of Denver School Board Director Tay Anderson, who shared it on social media. Anderson said the post had apparently been up for a few days before he saw it. Backlash ensued and then was apparently deleted from the Douglas County GOP’s Facebook page.

“It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, you shouldn’t mock somebody’s death to gain political points,” Anderson told the Sentinel Monday. 

Perhaps, Anderson said, it was because the man in the cartoon wasn’t black the party thought they could get away with posting it. George Floyd died May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. “I can’t breathe,” he said repeatedly. Petrenko’s original work was created May 3.

Douglas County GOP officials did not respond to request for comment, but they issued this statement on their Facebook page Monday afternoon. Officials did not say who altered the cartoon.

Sentinel Colorado contacted the Ukrainian artist and has not received comment on the use of his original work.

“As Chairman I am responsible for the content of our social media and I apologize to anyone that was offended by the post. We are currently reviewing our editorial policies with regard to content and access to our social media platforms,” Stephen Allen, Chairman Douglas County Republicans, wrote on Facebook Monday afternoon.

The post’s premise, that Gov. Jared Polis is forcing Coloradans into wearing masks to combat COVID-19, is inaccurate. 

Polis has stopped short of mandating face coverings across the state, instead leaving it up to local government to make those decisions. Many have, including Denver and the Tri-County Health Department, which governs Arapahoe, Adams and Douglas counties.

Douglas County commissioners have vowed to break away from Tri-County health following the mandate, which they are anticipated to also opt out of.

He’s been a vocal proponent of wearing masks in news conferences and on his social media. 

“The emerging scientific data is clear: wearing a mask doesn’t only protect others, it also significantly reduces your own risk of getting Coronavirus,” he wrote Monday on his Facebook page. “So if you’re a selfish bastard and wearing a mask to protect others isn’t enough of a reason to do so, then maybe protecting yourself is?”