If you’d asked me before Friday, I would have said there was no wrong way to decorate a Christmas tree.
“Hold my beer,” said somebody in Minneapolis’ Fourth Police Precinct.
Then they shoved that smelly beer can into the precinct Christmas tree, right next to a grubby pack of cigarettes and an empty cup from a fried chicken joint. Merry Christmas, North Side! We made you a Garbage Tree.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is threatening to fire the officers responsible for decking the halls with trash and racist stereotypes and further eroding the trust between a neighborhood and the police force that’s supposed to protect, serve and respect them.
Some people look at the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree and think: “I bet I could DIY that symbol of peace and joy into something truly awful.”
Others look those twinkling lights and think: “You know, it’s been a really rough year for this community. I bet I could DIY a little holiday hope and cheer.”
You’ll find good folk decking the halls in places like Barron, Wis. — a small town that’s been in the news for the worst of reasons.
It’s been a month and a half since 13-year-old Jayme Closs went missing. There’s no sign of her and no good leads about what might have happened early in the morning of Oct. 15, when her parents, James and Denise, were shot dead in their home and Jayme vanished.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for her hometown to use the holiday tinsel and twinkle lights as an escape from the loss and grief of the past few weeks. Instead, they wrote Jayme’s name in glitter across the entire length of the courthouse Christmas tree.
It’s the Jayme Tree now.
“We’re not going to forget her,” said Barron County Clerk of Circuit Court Sharon Millermon, whose staff decorated the huge tree in blue and green — green for all the missing children, blue for Jayme’s favorite color. One clerk stenciled the word “Hope” around the tree skirt. Another custom-ordered a green and blue tree topper. Another made ornaments that read “Hope for Jayme’s Safe Return.”
“During Christmastime, we all want to believe,” said Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald, who passes the Jayme Tree every day on his way in to work. “It’s a very frustrating case,” he said, and it helps a little “when you can walk through the lobby … and smile at that tree, and see the word ‘Believe’ and see the word ‘Hope.’ ”
If good people with good intentions could make good things happen, Jayme would be safe and sound and home by now.
When this small northwestern Wisconsin town of 3,500 needed volunteers to turn out in the cold and search the fields for some sign of her, 1,500 people showed up. There have been rallies and vigils. Her name glows on the signs outside local businesses, and her face smiles out from missing-person posters on walls all over town. Investigators are sifting through more than 2,300 tips about what could have happened to Jayme and her parents.
Barron native Chris Kroeze is on TV, competing on “The Voice.” There will be an answer, he sang in a pre-Thanksgiving performance he dedicated to Jayme and to Barron. Let it be.
“We didn’t know of too much bad in this community” before the Closs family tragedy, Millermon said. In the weeks since, “I would say our good qualities as a community are shining, because we as a community are coming together.”
Our best qualities as a community weren’t exactly shining in the Fourth Precinct last week.
The North Side recipients of the Garbage Tree saw 185 of their neighbors killed or injured by gunfire in the first nine months of 2018. We have three weeks ’til Christmas, eight days of Hanukkah and 365 days of a new year to show we care about those families’ pain as much as the people of Barron do about Jayme. Maybe we can say it with something that lasts longer than twinkle lights.