A billboard in Indiana is causing controversy with its blunt rebuke of the growing tensions between police and the communities they serve.
In Muncie, Indiana, an electronic billboard was visible for hours Saturday that read, "Hate cops? The next time you need help call a crackhead." The message, posted hours before a scheduled protest of police brutality in the area, is causing controversy for its potentially divisive message and mysterious appearance.
The billboard is located at the intersection of Wheeling and Riverside in Muncie, according to The Star Press, the town's local newspaper. However, the paper reports that by Sunday the text had been replaced with run-of-the-mill ads for local car dealerships and other small businesses. On Monday, the billboard again sported pro-law enforcement messages, but with a softer approach. "Love, Respect, Support Law Enforcement," read the new billboard.
The Star Press reported that many local residents were insulted by the original billboard, claiming it stoked racial tensions, as well as tensions between social classes. It is still not clear who is responsible for the original message. A nearby liquor store with no control over the billboard has received complaints and the Muncie Police Department has denied responsibility for the ad.
While it may have been shocking to many to see the controversial message on a billboard, the line — "Hate cops? The next time you need help call a crackhead."— is not a new one. It is a popular one-liner used by people on social media to express solidarity with law enforcement and dates back at least a few years. T-shirts with the slogan are readily available for purchase online.
The billboard controversy comes in the wake of heightened tension over the way law enforcement engages with people of color. Two cases of African-American men killed by police — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota — were caught on video this month, leading to nationwide protests, many led by leaders from the Black Lives Matter social justice movement. In the wake of the protests, police officers were targeted in shootings in Dallas on July 7 and, most recently, in Baton Rouge Sunday, further escalating tensions.
"We as a nation have to be loud and clear that nothing justifies violence against law enforcement. Attacks on police are an attack on all of us, and the rule of law that makes society possible," President Barack Obama said Sunday after the Baton Rouge shooting. "We don't need inflammatory rhetoric. We don't need careless accusations thrown around to score political points or to advance an agenda."