Two police officers in Minneapolis have been placed on leave over a racist Christmas tree display.
The department is conducting an internal investigation after two officers decorated a tree in the city’s majority-black Fourth Precinct with a pack of Newport cigarettes, a piece of yellow crime scene tape, bags of Takis, empty cans of malt liquor, a cup from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and other items of trash, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
This is a photo of a racist and derogatory Christmas tree at the Minneapolis 4th precinct. @jeremiah4north @CunninghamMPLS @Jacob_Frey We must demand an apology and commitment to build better community relations. This is unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/xNq4CUZUu5— North by Northside (@northxnorthside) November 30, 2018
The decorations were promptly taken down, but photos sparked outrage on social media.
Civil rights activist Ron Edwards called the display “a modern-day version of a dog whistle, tainted with racism, specifically against the African-American community.”
Mayor Jacob Frey (D) called the decorations “racist, despicable, and well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis.”
Frey initially called for the officers to be fired immediately, but the department placed them on paid leave due to legal requirements regarding the dismissal process.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he has “initiated a full investigation” of the incident, adding that he was “ashamed and appalled by the behavior of those who would feel comfortable to act in such a manner that goes against our core department values of Trust, Accountability and Professional Service,” according to the Star-Tribune.
City Councilman Phillipe Cunningham wrote on Facebook that precinct inspector Aaron Biard told him one of the officers hung the “inappropriate” ornaments “as a prank” and that the department will hold a cultural sensitivity training as well as a community outreach event.
Community activists gathered at the precinct headquarters on Friday to call for action to heal the community and cultural sensitivity training for officers.
“We are tired of being the city’s punching bag,” said Raeisha Williams, an activists and former City Council candidate. “Here we’ve had our holiday taken away from us. Destroyed. Manipulated. By hate, bigotry and racism."
Minneapolis’s Fourth Precinct has been rife with tension between residents and police officers ever since the 2015 fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man, prompted weeks of protests. Activists say the Christmas tree incident is a setback to any progress made in police-community relations.