When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: The Racist Christmas Tree

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.

Merry Christmas.

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,


Sources: Star Tribune, Washington Post

23 thoughts on “When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: The Racist Christmas Tree

  1. I know I’m showing my ignorance here, but I’m not sure why this is racist. It looks like they decorated the tree with items from the trash. Tackless, sure, but what exactly is racist? Are these items stereotyping black people? We’re the officers white (does it matter) is it possible this is Hanlon’s Razor?

  2. Far be it got me to defend stupidity (okay, who am I kidding, but usually it comes at a price), but there may be more context to this story.

    This was the the site of some BLM actions, etc. This precinct, as I recall, was “occupied “ for quite a while. Here is a press release I have not reviewed to refresh my memory.

    Again, I don’t want to defend stupidity; I just want to put it in its proper context.



      • The only point that they have is on the top of their heads.

        Here is what liberal columnist German Lopez wrote.

        If applicants make it through all of that, police departments can also use some discretion to decide whether the applicant is a threat to public safety — what’s known as the “suitability” standard. For an FID, police chiefs must petition a court. For an LTC, police chiefs can deem an applicant unsuitable on their own.

        The whole process usually takes two to six weeks, depending on the police department and circumstances involved.

        The idea behind the suitability standard is that there are some things that may not pop up in a person’s criminal or mental health record, but are relevant to whether someone can own a firearm. “Let’s say we’ve been to a house the last four years because the guy is passed out drunk on the front lawn,” Police Chief Bill Brooks of Norwood, Massachusetts, told me. “That would not be a statutory disqualifier. … But it would indicate — to me, anyway — that this person is unsuitable to hold a firearm.”

        • What the ever-loving fuck does any of that have to do with Black Lives Matter protesting a place that quite obviously does have racist cops?

          • Why would German Lopez support cops deeming applicants for licenses “unsuitable on their own”, even if there are no “statutory disqualifier[s]”?

            could it be he does not believe #BlackLivesMatter?

            • Get a CAT scan, there’s something clearly wrong.

              JutGoryin a very revealing moment suggest that a racist display was the understandable if unfortunate reaction to a Black Lives Matter protest.

              Quite obviously I don’t believe there is a justification or even a legitimate explanation beyond the people who did it are clearly racists.

              Look at the photo, res ipsa loquitur.

              Beyond that, since the places does have racist cops, see above, it is clear that Black Lives Matter was spot-on when they selected this department to protest.

              Nothing you said refutes, explains, expands or even relates to anything I or JutGlory said. You’re flinging random shit against the walls for reasons passing understanding. You might as well have typed Purple chinchilla carrot cake, that might have even made MORE sense.

          • Valkygrrl, I know you’re not going to back down now, but could you consider that the cops were ignorant (in specific areas) and immature, as a lot of them are; after all, a lot of police are recruited from among high school BMOCs not renowned for their sensitivity. They always will come from there. Few successful young entrepreneurs or upper level students or the professionally ambitious (or the rich) have a yen to get into the blue uniform. In other words, the two tree decorators may well be racist now, but at the time they may have been angry, frustrated and unable to cope with a community that despised all police and thwarted them at every turn. It didn’t have to have been a black community.

            When he was nearing 100 years old, one of my grandfathers finally told how it was on his “street,” how he and his friends got away with petty crimes, and taunted the (mostly) Irish cops while the adults called them shaygetz schmutz (non-Jewish dirt) and encouraged grandpa and his law-breaking pals to Zalts im in di oygen, feffer im in di noz (Throw salt in his eyes, pepper in his nose) and worse … though he never told us what the “worse” was. We figured out one of them was the potato up the tailpipe stunt but we were told after grandpa died that the police in “the old neighborhood” had to deal with constant false reports, reasonless lies and and misinformation, pieces of broken paving stones thrown at mounted policemen and their horses, and fires set in the precinct station . . . and that, with few exceptions on either side, the hatred was mutual.

            I understand what you’re saying. I’m saying that the label “racist” is not so much wrong as useless. The problem is only partly cultural (skin color, religion, gender, age, education, etc.). It’s mostly a matter of class. “Racism” is good cover for smearing everybody and declaring there are only problems here and there pertaining to one or another of the demographics and that everyone, top down, has to learn the same lessons. But it’s always a matter of punching down – especially where income and living standards (our class bases) are concerned – or punching up, for that matter. We refuse to recognize it: “class warfare” isn’t supposed to exist in this country where we are ” all one.”

            But this is where the “deplorables” epithet came from and why it worked as a definition and as a gross insult – because there wasn’t a name for it other than, for instance, “working class people,” and that would never do! It’s where the Christmas tree decorations came from as well. The police do serve the public, many of them as far and as well as they can, but their orders (like their organization) come from outside and, in this case, from above.

            p.s. I’m not trying to get at you with this; I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and meaning to get it written out even though there are trigger words that may cause microaggression among the commenters here, not just yourself. I would rather not make any more enemies than I have to.

  3. “It should be obvious, however, that these are not the core values of the department.”
    It is the values that are lived in the halls, not those written on the walls, that influence the police organizational culture. True of other organizations as well, of course.

  4. Missing negative??

    Two officers got the message that decorating a tree to send a message of contempt regarding the citizens they are supposed to serve would [NOT?] be well-received.

    • nope, not missing, the officers did not expect the reaction they got, which was negative. They expected to be lauded for a good representaion of the local culture.

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