You know, when one of your officers is alleged to have been responsible for the unnecessary death of a Black man, it’s probably not a good look to rehire an officer who was let go for racism. Yet, that’s exactly what the Minneapolis Police Department did.
CBS News reports that the decision to fire officer Mark Bohnsack was overturned by an arbitrator and Bohnsack will serve a 320-hour suspension instead. In November 2018, Bohnsack decorated a Christmas tree in the 4th Precinct with racially insensitive ornaments such as a pack of menthol cigarettes, a can of malt liquor and a cup from a fried chicken restaurant. Bohnsack, along with former officer Brandy Steberg, was placed on leave and eventually fired last August. A department spokesman said that Steberg was not reinstated.
When images of the tree hit social media, there were immediate demands from the community that the officers responsible be fired. “When this happened, communities were really upset. People were ready to make some action happen and they did, right, we put the pressure on and they did,” Chauntyll Allen, a community leader for Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, told CBS Minnesota. Advocates such as Allen said that the tree was symbolic of the racist attitudes displayed by the officers responsible for patrolling the city’s predominantly Black neighborhood. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued an apology and demoted the precinct commander.
“Two years later when they think no one’s watching, they just welcome these racists back into the institution to come patrol our streets again, and that’s just not okay,” Allen said of Bohnsack’s reinstatement. Following the killing of George Floyd, calls for police reform in Minneapolis only intensified along with scrutiny over the city’s arbitration process. In June, analysis of the city’s arbitration process by the Star-Tribune revealed that of the 80 officers who have been fired over the last 20 years, half have been reinstated.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Chief Arradondo have requested the state legislature pass reforms that would reduce the power of arbitrators and prevent them from overturning firing decisions made by the chief. “The facts of this case are clear. Chief Arradondo’s decision to terminate or discipline should not be overturned. We need arbitration reforms that tackles an arbitrator’s authority to reinstate in cases of established, egregious misconduct,” Frey said in a statement sent to CBS Minnesota.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a police-reform activist in Minneapolis, has said that there needs to be more diversity within the predominantly white pool of arbitrators. “They don’t have a connection to the African American community or other communities of color, and they are not looking through a racial justice lens when deciding these cases,” Armstrong said.
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