BALTIMORE — City employees removed artwork aimed at spotlighting the Black Lives Matter movement in Baltimore, even though the community mural project received official approval for public display.

Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks officials are investigating the removals after two city park rangers took down several painted plywood murals in Patterson Park, a 19th-century public space in the southeast section of the city.

The incident was first reported by the Baltimore Sun. Lester Davis, a spokesman for Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, confirmed to The Washington Post that the Recreation and Parks department has begun an investigation.

The murals — a dozen in all — had been installed last Wednesday in a small outdoor ceremony that drew the artists and their family members, friends and neighbors, who followed covid-19 protocols by wearing masks and socially distancing. A young Baltimore couple organized the effort following George Floyd’s police-involved death in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.

“We’re not blind to what‘s happening across the country, and George Floyd’s merciless murder showed us that. We felt we were not doing enough,” said Joe Sgandurra, 27, a New York transplant who co-owns the Eden Co., a home renovation firm, with his wife, Karley. “We put out a call on social media back in May to artists, and offers poured in. The artists are multiracial, and everyone was excited to participate.”

According to Sgandurra, the murals stood for about 48 hours, but on Friday morning, residents in the neighborhood near the park noticed two uniformed park rangers — one a White male, the other a Black woman — removing the art. He said witnesses saw the male employee rip several murals from their stands and put them in a city truck, then reportedly tell an onlooker the pieces were headed to a dump.

At least one neighbor intervened and took one of the murals home for safekeeping; the news quickly spread across the community on social media.

Zeke Cohen, the city councilman who represents the park district, posted on Facebook that he then contacted city officials.

“Neighbors, this morning park rangers decided to remove a beautiful permitted Black Lives Matter art installation. ... They were on their way to the dump when a neighbor reached out,” he wrote, noting that he called the department’s director. “They were promptly returned and reinstalled in the park.”

Cohen continued: “This incident is not isolated. Disdain for Black life is palpable. That law enforcement officials would think it's okay to illegally throw out these signs speaks to a deep cultural sickness. We need to do better.”

Reginald Moore, the city’s director of Recreation and Parks, posted an apology on Instagram noting that “diversity and equality are of the utmost importance to our agency.”

“In addition to restoring the artwork, it has also been brought to our attention that a member of our staff has been suspected of conduct not reflective of our values,” Moore said. “We take such allegations very seriously. All claims will be investigated and addressed.”

Five of the artists had works that were damaged, Sgandurra said. He said he, the artists, Moore and other city staffers met at the park on Monday to discuss the issue.

“While some of the artists are very upset, we are looking forward to any good that can come from this,” Sgandurra said.

Jordan Lawson, a 26-year-old graphic designer and painter, spent weeks creating a colorful acrylic mural of a Black woman’s fist raised in the air. It suffered scrapes and chips to the paint surface, he said, and when the mural was reinstalled by the same rangers who took them down, some of the screws were crooked.

“I was in shock,” he said. “Thank goodness for the neighbors of Patterson Park. The support of the community and the public outpouring has been tremendous.”

Potential compensation for any destruction done to the murals is being discussed with city officials, Lawson said.

Sgandurra said the artists and city discussed proposals to create permanent murals in neighborhood recreation centers and expanded art programming for Baltimore youth. Potential plans could include the establishment of a fund for underprivileged children to receive art supplies, and a youth art program that would feature art walks and exhibitions in the park.

“Our goal is to use a negative and turn it into a positive,” Sgandurra said.