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Va. police investigate after pig mask, 'I Can't Breathe' shirt found in police car

The Alexandria Police Department in Virginia says it's investigating a display of a pig wearing an "I Can't Breathe" shirt inside one of its police cruisers. The <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDs1CTkmKN8">video</a>, posted to YouTube, shows the discovery of the police cruiser and the materials inside.
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The Alexandria Police Department in Virginia says it's investigating a display of a pig wearing an "I Can't Breathe" shirt inside one of its police cruisers. The video, posted to YouTube, shows the discovery of the police cruiser and the materials inside.

The Alexandria Police Department in Virginia says it's looking into an incident involving a display inside of a parked police cruiser that featured "potentially offensive materials," prompting a city investigation.

In a video posted to YouTube on Oct. 21, footage shows a propped-up figure in the passenger seat of an unoccupied police cruiser with the head of a cartoon pig, a black mask and a shirt with the words "I Can't Breathe."

The video was first uploaded by ALX Accountability, a grassroots, civilian organization that records interactions with Alexandria, Va., government agencies and employees.

"...[I] can't breathe and a pig head at the top there. Unbelievable," said an unidentified person in the video.

The three words "I Can't Breathe" refer to what some police brutality victims — including George Floyd, Eric Garner and Manuel Ellis — said before their untimely deaths at the hands of law enforcement. The phrase quickly became a rallying cry in the fight against police misconduct, police brutality and systemic racism against the Black community.

The video does not show a police officer to whom the cruiser belonged. But later in the video, a police officer in a separate vehicle arrives and removes the t-shirt and display.

The responding officer told the person filming he did not know who the vehicle was assigned to.

"You agree it's inappropriate?" asked the videographer filming the incident.

"I'm not agreeing to anything. But I'll find out whose cruiser it is," the officer, who was not identified in the video, responded.

According to a joint statement released by Alexandria City Manager Jim Parajon and Police Chief Don Hayes, an investigation has been launched and officials will respond to the incident with "personnel accountability procedures."

"We recognize the importance of maintaining public trust and will continue to ensure our conduct, collectively and as individual employees, is reflective of our commitment to serve all Alexandrians," they said.

The city's statement did not specify whether an officer was responsible for the display or the intent of the message.

"We definitely understand the public's concerns. We find [the incident] to be troubling," Alexandria Police Department Assistant Chief Easton McDonald told local TV station NBC Washington.

The department did not identify the officer who was assigned to the police cruiser, and told NPR that it would not be releasing the name as the incident is still under investigation.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.