While there has been plenty of outrage over a controversial racist Christmas tree incident at the Fourth Precinct in Minneapolis, MN, the two police officers involved might be on leave, but they are still getting paid. While May Jacob Frey promised that the officer involved in this incident would be fired on Friday, he has backtracked to state that a ‘process’ in now going on to investigate the matter further.

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.

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The head of the police officer’s union did not immediately return a message.

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.”

minneapolis police racist christmas tree

The photo comes at a time when Minneapolis officials are working to repair community perceptions of police. The tension is particularly acute in the Fourth Precinct, where activists recently mourned the third anniversary of a police officer’s shooting of Clark, an unarmed black man. That 2015 shooting revived longstanding tension between some north Minneapolis residents and the police tasked with protecting them, and launched an 18-day activist demonstration at the police station.

Jeremiah Ellison, who is now a City Council member, was among the leaders of the 2015 precinct protests. On Friday, Ellison was at a loss for words to describe his reaction to the photo of the tree.

“Man, every way I could put it would understate it,” said Ellison. “It’s disappointing, but also I think deeply disturbing to wake up to something like that. Not just for myself, but for my neighbors.”

He said “the police precinct as a whole needs to address it further.”

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.

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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.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo released a written statement:

It was reported to me recently that a racially insensitive display that was put up in the 4th precinct lobby. As soon as it was realized what the display was, it was removed.

As was stated by many members of the community during the public hearing in front of the Public Safety Committee on Thursday, the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department has undergone positive change, however as this recent incident shows we still have much work ahead. Every day I work to bridge the divide between the police department and the community, as do so many others in our department. We will not stop our efforts of treating all those that we serve with fairness, dignity and respect. That manner of treatment is non-negotiable.

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. I have initiated a full investigation and will make information public when possible in accordance with Minnesota State Statute.

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