Black officers accused of complicity
A new inspector has been named at the Fourth Police Precinct Station in Minneapolis after a photo of a racist Christmas tree went viral on social media.
On Friday, two officers from the North Minneapolis station, in a predominately African American neighborhood, were put on leave after adorning the Christmas tree with cans of malt liquor, Newport cigarettes, and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen paraphernalia, along with other racist items.
Days later, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo removed the precinct’s inspector Aaron Biard and assigned Assistant Chief Mike Kjos as interim inspector.
Prior to his replacement, Biard said the officers did it as a “prank.” The community did not find it funny, however, with the incident sparking protests and rebukes from city leaders.
“This is the latest example of how little regard Fourth Precinct police officers have for North Minneapolis residents,” Nekima Levy Armstrong, attorney and co-founder of the Racial Justice Network, told the MSR. “The officers that put up the racist display should be fired, along with any supervisors and officers who saw the tree and did nothing about it.”
Both Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo immediately denounced the officer’s actions and placed the officers on leave.
“Chief Arradondo and I will not tolerate conduct that departs from our values,” said Frey in a statement. “This behavior is racist, despicable, and is well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis. Racism and intolerance [are] absolutely unacceptable, and that should especially be the case amongst our City employees.”
Arradondo added, “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.”
On Monday, Arradondo released another statement announcing Biard’s removal.
“After very thoughtful review and consideration, I have made the decision that, effective immediately, Assistant Chief Kjos will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the 4th Precinct,” he said. “Assistant Chief Kjos will help serve in this capacity until a decision is made on the next Inspector of the 4th Precinct.”
Reverend Albert Gallmon, Jr., senior pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, questioned the silence of Black police officers who saw the tree and didn’t make the public aware.
“I am outraged that there is no outrage coming from the Black police officers,” said Rev. Gallmon in a recent appearance on the “Two Haute Mamas” podcast on WCCO Radio online. “I don’t hear it. I think our Black officers are winking or laughing with their fellow officers and that’s appalling.”
He added, “Those officers who did that did not think they would have any backlash from their fellow Black officers. If I walk by and I see that tree and I’m a Black officer I’m burning that tree down in the precinct. How do you walk back and forth past that tree every day?”
Gallmon could not speak to whether the Black officers are afraid of the union, but he said their silence is alarming whatever the cause.
“I expect that from racist officers in the Black community,” he said. “They kill people left and right and prove that they don’t care about Black lives. I don’t want to take anything from those officers who are truly wrong. But the African American officers should have taken care of this. If our officers on the police force are not going to keep fellow officers in check, then none of us are safe.”
Gallmon said he hopes his message serves as an opportunity to educate Black officers about their obligation to people in the Fourth Precinct who look like them.
“Somehow, we have to get them to understand that their power on the force is to protect us. If they are going to go along to get along, then none of us is safe,” he said. “They are not being responsible with what God has given them — which is our protection. If you can’t protect us over a Christmas tree, you can’t protect us on the streets of Minneapolis.”
Nekima Levy Armstrong challenged anyone — whether they are an officer or community citizen — who did not see an issue with the tree to “wake the hell up.”
“The fact that the officers went to such lengths to find stereotypical items to place on that tree shows that they knew exactly what they were doing, and that was to mock the Northside community. The community has been through so much and is constantly being neglected by City officials. We don’t deserve to be treated that way.”