MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two Minneapolis police officers were placed on paid leave Friday after their apparent involvement in Christmas tree decorations that the city’s mayor called “despicable.”
The Christmas tree at a precinct station on the city’s North Side was decorated with items such as Newport cigarettes, police crime tape, a can of malt liquor, a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen cup, and other things that Mayor Jacob Frey said amounted to a “racist display.” A picture of the tree circulated online before the items were removed.
Frey initially called for the officer involved to be fired by day’s end, but later recognized that a process has to be followed. Instead, two officers were placed on paid leave while the department investigates.
“This behavior is racist, despicable, and is well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis,” Frey said in a statement early Friday. “Shifting the culture of the police department requires swift and decisive action. Termination is necessary — both to discipline the officer and to send a clear message: Chief (Medaria) Arradondo and I will not tolerate conduct that departs from our values.”
Arradondo called the display “racially insensitive” and said it was removed. He said he has started a full investigation into the incident.
“I am 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,” Arradondo said in a statement.
The head of the police officer’s union did not immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment.
The tree is in the police station on the city’s North Side, which has a fractured relationship with police. The precinct was the site of more than two weeks of protests after the 2015 fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, a black man. While Arradondo said the police department has made positive changes, “this recent incident shows we still have much work ahead.”
Longtime civil rights activist Ron Edwards told the Star Tribune, that the items on the tree were a “wink wink” to racial stereotypes against black people.
“It’s a modern-day version of a dog whistle, tainted with racism, specifically against the African-American community,” he said.
The Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar, a group formed after Clark’s shooting, sent out a statement saying they were “outraged and disgusted” by the display. The group also called for the immediate termination of those involved.
Also Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted to reduce the mayor’s proposed police budget for 2019 by more than $1 million.