DEARBORN, Mich. – Michigan State Police and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) officials are trying to determine how an electronic road was changed to display a racist message about Trayvon Martin. The sign, which was located along I-94, at the border of Detroit and Dearborn, said “Trayvon is a Ni**er” and was discovered just before 1 a.m. on Monday morning.
“We were first notified at about 12:05 a.m. of the inappropriate message,” said Rob Morosi, an MDOT spokesman, “Immediately, we dispatched crews to verify that the message had been changed, and it was removed by 12:45 a.m. and replaced with the proper message.
Morosi said that someone hacked into a portable electronic sign that was attached to a trailer and was able to change the message. He said that the person who changed it was able to access the password controls to make the quick change.
“The sign is there as part of a big project we have at the I-94/M-39 interchange,” Morosi said. “Calls were coming in from motorists who were shocked, disturbed and every emotion you can imagine. The portable sign has a panel that was broken into. The message was changed and the keyboard was actually stolen.”
There is an investigation pending, and Michigan State Police will check surveillance footage to see how the sign was hacked and by who. Sign pranks like this are often common at this time of year, with many of them harmlessly referencing aliens, UFOs, or Santa Claus. This was a case where a “computer savvy” individual was able to spread a hate-filled message.
“We’ve had instances before where we’ve had some quirky messages regarding aliens and goblins,” Morosi said. “But rarely anything to this level of hatred that was depicted.”
This is the second such incident involving racial slurs on a digital MDOT sign in a year.
On April 8, 2011, an MDOT sign in Ypsilanti, near Eastern Michigan University, was hacked and the message “God Hates Ni**ers” was displayed for hours before authorities removed it.
This incident also comes days after someone spray-painted “Long Live Zimmerman” on the Hale Black Cultural Center at Ohio State University. That incident led to demonstrations by black students at Ohio State over the weekend.
Morosi applauded the efforts of MDOT workers and their quick response to remove the slur from the sign considering the time of night and that most workers were off for the Easter holiday. He noted that better safeguards will be put in place to prevent things like this from happening in the future.
“We hope that people understand that message boards are meant to be a public service warning drivers about upcoming work zones, closed ramps and things of that nature,” Morosi said. “We hope people are as offended by it as we were.”