Two US police officers have been put on leave after adding unusual items to their station lobby’s Christmas tree: A collection of rubbish, yellow crime scene tape, packs of cigarettes, a crumpled bag of chips, a cup from a fried chicken outlet, and a can of malt liquor.
Critics have slammed the actions of the policemen from Minneapolis, claiming the items selected play on negative stereotypes about African-Americans.
“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,” City Councilman Phillipe Cunningham said on Facebook.
Chauntyll Allen, founder of Black Lives Matter’s Twin Cities chapter, called the decorations “appalling”.
“I can’t believe that this really happened, just to make a mockery of everything,” Ms Allen said.
“The yellow tape is so traumatic,” she said. “It’s just triggering to anybody who’s experienced any kind of crime in the past year.”
The department has since placed the officers on leave and has launched an internal investigation amid an outcry that the decorations mocked the precinct’s predominantly black neighbourhoods. The precinct commander also was demoted, according to the Star-Tribune.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey called the tree “racist” and “despicable.” Mr Frey vowed the officers responsible would be fired.
“Shifting the culture of the police department requires swift and decisive action,” he said. “Termination is necessary – both to discipline the officer and to send a clear message.”
A spokesman from the mayor’s office has since walked back parts of that statement, acknowledging that the fate of the officers responsible will take some time to determine.
“Every day I work to bridge the divide between the police department and the community, as do so many others in our department,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement.
“The culture of the Minneapolis Police Department has undergone positive change, however as this recent incident shows we still have much work ahead.”
Three years ago, the department was heavily criticized for the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old African-American, during a scuffle with white officers.
An internal investigation concluded in 2016 that the officers involved did not violate any department policies, and they were not disciplined.
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