As a holiday prank, two Minneapolis police officers decorated a Christmas tree inside a Minneapolis Police Department precinct in a primarily African-American area with half-crushed cans of malt liquor, crumpled bags of Takis chips and Funyuns, a cup from Popeyes and two packs of Newport cigarettes, all highlighted by a strip of yellow crime-scene tape.
Naturally, a photo of the tree made it to social media. The officers responsible were placed on leave after the local African American community and public officials expressed anger and outrage, including Mayor Jacob Frey, who described the tree as “racist, despicable, and well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis.”
City Councilman Phillipe Cunningham, who represents constituents in the majority-black Near North neighborhood where the MPD’s 4th Precinct is located, added, “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.”
It pretty hard to disagree with that analysis.
It is hard to understand how any police officer, in any American city, could do something like this and not know that it is inflammatory, destructive, and wrong. Any police officer who could do it, however, is working in a culture that is itself warped and corrupted. Getting rid of the two officers won’t solve the problem. Two officers got the message that decorating a tree to send a message of contempt regarding the citizens they are supposed to serve would be well-received. Wow.
That message didn’t appear out of thin air.
Everyone should forget about the tree and look at the Department itself. In a statement, the police chief 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.” It should be obvious, however, that these are not the core values of the department. They are words in a manual somewhere, that’s all. If they were a genuine, established, reinforced part of the department’s values, this incident wouldn’t have occurred, because the ethics alarms would have rung long before the first Funyuns bag was hung,