Minneapolis police commander replaced after mayor calls precinct’s Christmas tree racist

MINNEAPOLIS — The commander of a Minneapolis police precinct has been replaced following uproar over Christmas tree decorations that the mayor said amounted to a “racist display.” The Christmas tree at the Fourth Precinct station on the city’s north side was decorated with items such as Newport cigarettes, police crime tape, a can of malt liquor and a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen cup.

Minneapolis Police spokesman John Elder confirmed Monday that inspector Aaron Biard had been removed as commander of the precinct. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement that Assistant Chief Mike Kjos will be responsible for the precinct’s day-to-day operations until a replacement is found.

Kjos previously served as the precinct’s commander, the Star Tribune reported. Two Minneapolis officers were placed on paid leave Friday for their apparent involvement in the decorations.

Mayor Jacob Frey called the decorations “despicable” and said they amounted to a “racist display.” A picture of the tree circulated online before the items were removed.

This is a photo of a racist and derogatory Christmas tree at the Minneapolis 4th precinct. @jeremiah4north @CunninghamMPLS @Jacob_Frey We must demand an apology and commitment to build better community relations. This is unacceptable. pic.twitter.com/xNq4CUZUu5

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, the two officers were placed on paid leave while the department investigates.

That investigation continues, Elder said Monday. Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond said Friday the incident was proof of a problem with the culture within the Minneapolis Police Department, CBS station WCCO-TV reports.

“I believe that there are a lot of people working in Minnesota to actually produce justice, but I also think there are many forces working against it, and we have to recognize that this is a systemic issue, and it’s not just good enough to fire the individual who put the decorations up,” Redmond said. “We need to look into how many officers actually walked past this and was OK with it.”

In a statement Monday, Frey said he supports the chief’s decision to remove the precinct’s commander and said “it reflects his resolve to make meaningful change.” Arradondo has called the display “racially insensitive.”

“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 an earlier statement. A message left for Biard at the precinct was not immediately returned Monday.

The city’s north side 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.

The Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar, a group formed after Clark’s shooting, has called for the immediate termination of those involved.

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