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Mpls. mayor vows to fire cop for racist 4th Precinct decorations

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Raeisha Williams, right, whose brother Tyrone Williams was killed.
Raeisha Williams, right, whose brother Tyrone Williams was killed in North Minneapolis in April, speaks to reporters outside the Fourth Precinct police headquarters on Nov. 30, 2018.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Updated 7:20 p.m. | Posted 1:05 p.m.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey on Friday promised to quickly fire a Minneapolis 4th Precinct police officer for decorating a Christmas tree with objects that appeared to mock the precinct's largely African-American population.

An image of a Christmas tree inside the 4th Precinct offices began circulating Thursday night on social media. The image shows a tree decorated with a pack of Newport cigarettes, beer cans, police tape and a cup from Popeyes fast-food chain.

"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. 

Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong
Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, center, and other north Minneapolis activists speak to reporters outside the Fourth Precinct police headquarters on Nov. 30, 2018.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

The Minneapolis Police Department said Friday evening that two officers were on paid leave, pending an investigation. 

Outside the precinct, activists demanded the officers be fired. Raeisha Williams — whose brother Tyrone died by homicide in April — said the police tape was particularly offensive.

"Because as I returned from HCMC after my brother's body lay lifeless on some table, I returned to the police yellow taping," Williams said.

Frey had vowed to fire the officer by the end of Friday, saying he and Chief Medaria Arradondo needed to send a message they "will not tolerate conduct that departs from our values." 

Later in the day, though, he acknowledged to reporters that the city has a process it's required to follow, but that he still believed the officer should be fired quickly.

"Racism and intolerance is absolutely unacceptable, and that should especially be the case amongst our city employees," he said.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office said the tree was up for a couple of hours before pictures circulated on social media, and the display was taken down.

City Council member Phillipe Cunningham wrote in a Facebook post that he had spoken with 4th Precinct Inspector Aaron Biard and that the officer who decorated the tree has been "both disciplined and coached."

Every year an officer is assigned to decorate the tree, Cunningham wrote, adding, "As a prank, another officer hung some inappropriate ornaments after it was decorated."

In a separate statement, Arradondo said he's opened 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," the chief wrote.

While the department has undergone positive changes in recent years, he added, "this recent incident shows we still have much work ahead."

MPR News reporters Brian Bakst and Matt Sepic contributed to this report.