Winston-Salem Police Chief Catrina Thompson is apologizing for the presence of a stuffed monkey in a police cruiser, a sight someone captured in a video and posted on Facebook, calling it racist.
In a link to the Facebook video that police released, the Facebook poster, who identifies herself as Divine Deva, films through the window of a car she is riding in toward a police cruiser in the next lane.
Zooming in on the face of the monkey, the Facebook poster says that the police have a monkey in the rear of the police car and that it is “the most racist thing I have ever seen.”
Thompson provided a photograph of the stuffed monkey along with her statement. The monkey appears to have a hat and dreadlocks associated with Rastafarian culture.
Thompson said the stuffed monkey was removed from the patrol vehicle and that steps are being taken to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again. She said she understands why people were offended.
“In the future, we will confirm our stuffed animals are not offensive,” Thomson said. “I apologize to any community member that found this circumstance to be offensive.”
Thompson said police routinely carry stuffed animals in their cars to calm children who have been traumatized by anything from a fire to an act of violence. She said an investigation showed there was no ill intent behind the placement of the stuffed monkey in the police car.
According to the Facebook link, the monkey was noticed and filmed about 9:06 a.m. Monday. The woman posting the video said on Facebook that the worst part about the incident was that it was her son that pointed out the monkey.
The Facebook user who posted the video could not be reached Tuesday night. But she posted an update to the incident about 10:40 p.m. in which she stood by her complaint.
The woman said she understands that the stuffed animals are there for a reason, but that police shouldn’t “put a monkey with a Rastafarian hat” and dreadlocks in the back of a white officer’s police car.
“It makes me question his intent toward the black men in my community,” the woman said.
Thompson said she became aware of the video circulating on Facebook Monday afternoon and immediately began to investigate what was going on. She determined that the monkey was one of several stuffed animals in the patrol car, and that they are placed on the front bracket of an interior protective shield so they can be in easy reach of the officer.
“I bring this episode to your attention in the spirit of transparency, because I realize that citizens have found the display of the monkey stuffed animal appearing to be riding in the rear seat of a marked patrol car to be offensive,” Thompson said.
Thompson said stuffed animals are donated to police by various organizations, and that police have been carrying stuffed animals around in their cars for 20 years under the program.
“The stuffed animals have proven to be a successful initiative for the WSPD,” Thompson said. “We have taken administrative actions to change the appearance of the display of the stuffed animal, specifically the monkey, to ensure no one else is offended. I assure you this will not reoccur.”
Thompson went on to say that police receive training to be sensitive to juveniles and minorities, and that the department also does training in bias-free policing.
Winston-Salem City Council Member Vivian Burke, who was chairwoman of the city’s Public Safety Committee for 36 years and still sits on that panel, said Thompson took the right approach handling the complaint.
Police “must be cautious and aware of the feelings of the citizens of the community,” Burke said. “I would hope that would be one of their No. 1 duties, to make sure their cars would not be carrying anything to offend anyone. Sometimes something like that can create a problem if we are not careful.”