A sheriff’s department in the US state of Alabama has come under fire over a Facebook photo showing a Christmas tree adorned with mugshots of suspects.
It called the decorations “thugshots” in a Facebook post on Thursday that drew thousands of negative comments.
Local civil liberties groups have described the post as “despicable”.
A sheriff spokeswoman for Mobile County Sheriff’s Department defended the image, saying it represented criminals who were repeat offenders.
In a Facebook post sharing the image, the department said: “We have decorated our Tree with THUGSHOTS to show how many Thugs we have taken off the streets of Mobile this year! We could not have done it without our faithful followers!”
The post, which has since been removed, drew 7,900 comments, according to the Associated Press news agency. While some of the reaction was positive, many people responded saying the decorations were demeaning and cruel, the agency reports.
Bernard Simelton, president of Alabama’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, criticised the “despicable behaviour” of the police department, Al.com news website reported.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama (ACLU) has condemned the tree, calling it “divisive and cruel”.
The civil rights organisation’s director, JaTaune Bosby, said most of those arrested had struggled with mental health problems and drug abuse.
“They need the community’s assistance and care, not open scorn from leaders.”
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department told AI.com the image had been photoshopped, and was not on display in the police building.
Lori Myles, quoted by AI.com, said the tree was “a good thing”, showing “they have taken these career criminals off the streets”.
The same spokeswoman told CBS News she had taken down the post after receiving death threats.
It’s not the first time the sheriff’s department has got into hot water over its social media posts. In December last year, the chief of Mobile police department was forced to apologise for an “insensitive” Facebook post in which two officers held up a “homeless quilt” made up of signs used for begging.