Two Minneapolis, Minn., police officers were placed on paid leave for decorating a precinct Christmas tree with a Newport cigarette box, a can of Steel Reserve malt liquor, police tape, a bag of Takis and a cup from Popeyes, in what Mayor Jacob Frey called a “racist display” meant to deride African Americans, according the 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 incident occurred in the North Precinct where police have struggled to forge community relationships and build trust after the fatal 2015 police shooting of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man, the Star-Tribune wrote. The racially charged shooting created tension between north Minneapolis residents and police officers, and led to 18 days of protest outside the precinct.
In this latest incident, the fate of the officers will be decided at the conclusion of an internal affairs investigation, officials said.
“It’s a modern-day version of a dog whistle, tainted with racism, specifically against the African-American community,” Ron Edwards, a civil rights activist, told the Star-Tribune newspaper.
Initially, after Frey saw the viral photo on Friday, he vowed that the police officers would be “fired before the day is over.” Hours later, however, his spokesman, Mychal Vlatkovich, walked back the statement, saying the process of firing an officer takes more time.
“While Mayor Frey’s earlier statement reflects his sentiment, he recognizes there is a legally required process that must be followed,” Vlatkovich said, according to the Star-Tribune. “He has full faith in Chief [Medaria] Arradondo to see that process through in a timely manner.”
In a statement Friday, Police Chief Arradondo said 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.” The chief said he has “initiated a full investigation and will make information public when possible in accordance with Minnesota State Statute,” according to the Star-Tribune.
If Arradondo fires the officers, they can appeal through arbitration.