Two Minnesota cops put on leave over ‘racist’ Christmas tree decorations

Two Minnesota cops put on leave over ‘racist’ Christmas tree decorations

Two police officers in Minnesota were put on leave last week, after a photo of a Christmas tree display outside a precinct with racist decorations was shared online. The tree, which was displayed outside the Fourth Precinct of the Minneapolis Police Department, was covered with products with cultural ties to African-American stereotypes, bringing those responsible under harsh scrutiny.

The tree in question was covered with police tape, an empty can of Steel Reserve malt liquor, bags of Takis chips, packs of Newport cigarettes and a cup from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. The photo was shared last week, and has since created outrage in the community and from local officials.

“These pieces of trash were deliberately chosen to represent how certain officers feel about the community they serve: that black people are a stereotype to be mocked and the lives of those they serve may as well be reduced to trash in the gutter,” said City Councilman Phillipe Cunningham.

This isn't the first time there has been friction between the Fourth Precinct and the black community. In 2015, 24-year-old Jamar Clark was shot and killed by a police officer, despite being unarmed. The community protested the precinct for several weeks afterwards, and recently mourned the third anniversary of the fatal shooting.

Speaking to the accusations of racism regarding the tree, one resident said:

"What struck me about the ornaments on the tree - someone said 'that's not necessarily racist'. No, not necessarily, but if you understand the history and the attitude the police have toward the citizens here, you'll understand the meaning behind it. It was meant to be disparaging,

"This sends a clear message that they don't feel any respect. [...] The police, who are supposed to serve and protect us, have this attitude toward us that we're not something other than what we are. We're just human beings just like everybody else.

"For all those that say we're just complaining and playing the victim, let me tell you this. The human thing to do when someone says they've been victimised is to sympathise and empathise."

An internal investigation has found that two officers, who have not been publicly identified, added the trash to the tree as a joke on about the community after it was already decorated.

“This behaviour is racist, despicable, and is well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said. “Racism and intolerance is absolutely unacceptable, and that should especially be the case amongst our city employees.”

Frey later called for the officers responsible to be fired, but later retracted his statement - and said he has "full faith" in Police Chief Medaria Arradondo's ability to see due process is followed. On Friday, Arradondo said he was “ashamed and appalled by the behaviour 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".

Cunningham also showed his support for the Police Chief, hoping that he would figure out how to "fundamentally change the MPD culture". Both Cunningham and activists have said that, following the 2015 shooting, the department should be trying to mend their relationship with the community, and this may have hurt progress.