State police said an unauthorized person took over the sign along westbound I-94 near Livernois before the Southfield interchange.
The message in lights made a reference to Trayvon Martin, the teen killed by a neighborhood watchman in Florida, and included a racial slur.
Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman Rob Morosi said that at around 1 a.m. Monday someone was able to get into the box attached to the portable sign and pull out the keyboard.
He said that whomever is responsible knew what they were doing.
“These signs, obviously, are in cabinets which someone has to break into. And then they have to be knowledgeable as to how to erase the message that’s on there, create a new message and activate it,” Morosi said.
Morosi said they sent a crew out to the scene to address the issue as soon as they learned of it. The sign is now back on message, warning drivers about a construction project ahead.
The WWJ newsroom had been receiving multiple calls about the message.
Area resident Ken Furgama of Melvindale wasn’t happy to hear about it.
“I’d just hope it was an isolated train of thought, you know, but I do believe there are a lot of ignorant people still out there,” he told WWJ’s Ron Dewey. “I’m just sorry it happened.”
Reverend Wendell Anthony, of the Detroit Office of the NAACP, said it didn’t surprise him.
“We know that we’ve got some foolish people in all communities, in all races, in all ethnicities. But it is up to us who are wiser, who know better, to stand up, speak out, call it out, and let’s try to fix it as long as we’re able,” Anthony said. “So, I am not discouraged. I am still very much encouraged.”
MDOT is investigating with the help of Michigan State Police. Morosi said that whoever is responsible could face some pretty serious charges.