Just over 10 weeks have passed since the death of 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray, who suffered traumatic neck and spinal cord injuries while in police custody, but a recent revelation has thrown the city into controversy once more. On Friday, authorities announced that they had launched an investigation into photos circulated this week showing an insensitive sign on the inside of a police van, which read, "Enjoy your ride, cuz we sure will!" Amidst a wave of violent crime that has plagued the city of Baltimore since Gray's death, the news signaled clearly that the conflict between police and residents was far from over.
The sign was especially concerning given the nature of Gray's death. On April 12 this year, Gray, who was riding his bike through town, was knocked to the ground by multiple Baltimore police officers and placed under arrest for allegedly possessing an "illegal" switchblade (state prosecutor Marilyn Mosby later questioned the validity of the arrest, arguing that the knife in Gray's possession was allowed by law). Officers then moved him to the back of one such police van in handcuffs where, after a 30-minute drive, Gray was rushed to a nearby hospital by paramedics, who reported he had suffered severe neck and spinal injuries. Gray died one week later as a result of his injuries.
Photos of the alleged police van sign triggered a downpour of criticism on Friday.
"This sign is yet more proof that the Baltimore City Police Department is in need of serious investigation, oversight and reform," said Gray family attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr., in an email statement to The Baltimore Sun . Still, he urged, the community reaction should be a peaceful one. "While we wait for the Department of Justice to do this very thing, our response as a unified community should be patience and calm," said Murphy.
The Department of Justice, as Murphy pointed out, is currently conducting an extensive review of its own into the beleaguered police force to determine whether it has routinely used excessive force or discriminatory profiling in violation of citizens' civil rights during the course of arrest or investigation. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch explained in a statement this past May that the purpose of the investigation was not to create more division, but to help speed the healing process between police and the people they serve.
"Our goal is to work with the community, public officials and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore," said Lynch.
So far, the Baltimore Police Department has pledged to take the matter very seriously, telling CNN affiliate WBAL-TV, which first published the photos late on Thursday, that it would conduct a full investigation of all police transport vehicles.
"The nature and the posting of wording in one of our transport vehicles is both concerning and unacceptable," said a police spokesperson on Friday. "We have recently become aware of the wording and have begun an internal investigation to determine all the circumstances surrounding its placement and to identify the person or persons responsible for its posting."
WBAL-TV reported that the photos were first sent to them by a viewer who had been walking by the Central District Police Station on Tuesday. It was unclear how long the sign had been in place, authorities added on Friday.