Cops Put on Leave Over “Racist” Christmas Tree Decorations
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - December 7, 2018
Two Minnesota police officers were placed on paid leave Friday after images of a Christmas tree with “racist” ornaments in north Minneapolis’ 4th Precinct station went viral.
The tree was littered with police tape, an empty can of Steel Reserve malt liquor, a cup from Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, bags of Takis chips and packs of Newport cigarettes, CBS reported.
Black Lives Matter Twin Cities posted the picture on social media last week and it quickly spurred outrage from members of the black community as well as local officials. Minneapolis City Councilman Phillipe Cunningham confirmed that an officer had hung some “inappropriate ornaments” as a prank after the tree had already been decorated.
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 didn’t go unnoticed by African Americans…
As darkness fell Friday, a dozen community activists stood in front of the dimly lit precinct headquarters demanding the immediate firing of the officers involved and cultural competency training for Police Department employees.
“We are tired of being the city’s punching bag,” said former City Council candidate Raeisha Williams, adding that the incident has lent a sour note to Christmas for many North Siders.
“Here we’ve had our holiday taken away from us. Destroyed. Manipulated. By hate, bigotry and racism,” Williams said.
Chauntyll Allen, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, said she learned about the display after someone e-mailed her a photo. It sat in her inbox for several days before she noticed it, she said, lamenting that the display was likely up for days before being taken down amid public pressure.
Allen questioned calls by city leaders for an internal affairs investigation. “It was clearly there,” she said. “What more needs to be investigated?”
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham wrote on Facebook that he talked to Fourth Precinct Inspector Aaron Biard, who said the ornaments had been taken down. Cunningham said Biard described it as an officer’s “prank.”
“They hurt EVERY gain made in improving community-police relations,” wrote Cunningham. “On a personal level, despite being a [Council Member], I am still a Black man myself and these outrageous reminders only further my own feeling (of being) generally unsafe around police officers.”
“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,” he continued.
A group of community activist held a press conference outside of the 4th Precinct the same evening, where they called for the immediate termination of the responsible parties, according to WCCO.
“If you understand the history and the attitude that the police have toward the citizens here, you’d understand that there was a meaning behind it,” said community activist Mel Reeves. “And it was racist.”
Activists want all 4th Precinct personnel to undergo cultural competency training. They are also calling for the creation of a north side community advisory group, and the hiring north side residents to work at the precinct as community liaisons.
“We don’t even feel safe walking around the police station,” said Chauntyll Allen of Black Lives Matter Twin Cities. “They were using the yellow tape as an ornament, as something to just decorate. That’s triggering. That’s triggering to every single member of the Twin Cities, to be honest with you, that has had to deal with yellow tape.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey vehemently spoke out against the incident.
“This behavior is racist, despicable, and is well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis,” Frey said. “Racism and intolerance is absolutely unacceptable, and that should especially be the case amongst our city employees.”
The department has not named the officers involved, but several sources identified Mark Bohnsack and Brandy Steberg, both 21-year veterans, as the officers who decorated the Christmas tree inside the North Side precinct’s lobby with the items.
At the meanwhile, not everyone seems to have noticed the “racist” background in the officers’ joke.
This is ridiculous, that tree is funny.....nothing racist about it, just everyone’s favorite junk foods and drinks. People really need to lighten up.— Brandy Hall (@Brandyhallccc) December 3, 2018
This is so weird. I regularly consume most of these items..but I'm white, was I supposed to be offended?— Chad Hill (@ChadHillPhoto) December 1, 2018
Moreover, even many Afro-Americans do not resent the police.
I don't get it. What's racist about it? I've used all those products and I'm not white. I've decorated a tree in high school with wrappers I've food I've eaten.— logicalhistory (@LogicalHistory) December 2, 2018
Im black & I don't think it's objectively racist. If it was a black cop, it would've been considered funny. Regardless, I think it was pretty stupid considering their job. Like people never cease to surprise w/ how little they care about their livelihood.— BootsnBeanies (@anxietyebriety) December 3, 2018
I’m confused. I’m African-American, and I’ve taught my children that unless you think of yourself in that manner, you can’t be offended. So is this the way we view ourselves? This can relate to any race.— Ariesa #Resistance (@AriesaSandino) December 2, 2018
Inspector Aaron Biard is being replaced by Assistant Chief Mike Kjos, who previously served as the precinct’s commander and will take over day-to-day operations until a replacement is found.