Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


My Photo
Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Policing while Black:

The Baltimore Police Department is implementing a ban on certain hairstyles that are worn by its Black male and female police officers, some of whom have protested the restrictions as racist. The order which goes into effect on Jan. 1 was the following.

General Order C-12, Professional Appearance Standards, effective from 1 January 2007.

“Extreme or fad hairstyles are PROHIBITED, including but not limited to: cornrows, mohawks, dreadlocks, and twists, as well as designs or sculptures using the hair and/or cut into the hair.”

The Baltimore Police Department will impose its hair policy because one of its representatives claimed that officers wearing these hair styles did not look professional enough. Three out of the four hairstyles targeted by the ban are worn almost exclusively by African-Americans.

Others from the city have said that these hairstyles are going to be banned, because they make the police officers appear too similar to criminals. Because of course, criminals are the only people who wear these hairstyles. And if so many Black men and women do wear these styles as well, then of course they must all be criminals. At the very least, these men and women are wearing "extreme" or "fad" hairstyles and could not possibly be professional and responsible police officers! By the way, what do they call making such generalizations based on race again? What do they call it when law enforcement officers do it?

Way to put your prejudices and stereotypes about a racial group on display for all to see, Baltimore Police Department. Let's hope you don't put them into practice in the field as well but if this is how your administration thinks and acts, that is probably wishful thinking.

(excerpt, WBAL-TV)

"We just felt that over the years, some officers have taken advantage of the old general order and are not presenting themselves, while in uniform to the public, in the most professional manner possible," said Matt Jablow, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.

Not surprisingly, others strongly disagreed with the policy.


"I think it's incredibly insensitive," said Taunya Banks, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. "I'm really kind of concerned about labeling as faddish a practice that's not faddish at all, and what appears to be a targeting of black officers."

Last July, one Black police officer was stripped of his policing powers for wearing his hair in dreadlocks, according to a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union posted here. Others have filed law suits with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Online, there is a petition that can be signed protesting the planned hairstyle bans along with information on how to contact those in Baltimore's government and police department who either make these kinds of decisions or hire those who do. So far, 1871 people have signed the petition.

Petition against hairstyle bans


We have also been advised that afros are now also prohibited because they “do not conform to the head.”

By implementing this policy, you have committed the following offenses:

1. You have effectively said that the natural hair texture of the Black Race (or people of African descent) is NOT ACCEPTABLE unless it is worn straightened, or in a straight style, like the hair of Europeans or Asians. It is acceptable only if it is covered by a hair weave which mimics the hair of Europeans or Asians or is worn in a European style.

2. You are trying to force people to use unhealthy practices like relaxing their hair and using high heat straightening in order to conform to this standard.

3. You are contributing to the belief that African American hair is inferior to European hair.

4. You have caused considerable stress among those affected by this policy by threatening sanctions against people who wish to maintain their hair in its natural state.

We state this policy for what it is. It is a short-sighted, discriminatory policy, formed either out of ignorance or racism, directed at people of African descent in order to force them to conform to European hair standards.

Those standards relate to maintaining what the Baltimore PD considers a superior genetic characteristic of the White race over the Black race.

Bloggers have been discussing this issue since the controversy first emerged including at Jackson Free Press, My Demographic's Agency and also Prometheus6.

An individual identifying himself or herself as a Baltimore Police Department officer protested the new policy here.


"Help!! I am a police officer in Baltimore city. The Baltimore City Police Department has issued a new mandate which prohibits the wearing of Dreadlocks, Cornrows and Twists. There are many sisters in my agency that no longer straighten their hair. We now have no styling options and the many women that have Dreadlocks will be forced to cut off their hair. We have complained but our agency has stated these styles are extreme and faddish and unprofessional.

We have filed EEOC complaints and contacted a lawyer. Our New Mayor and African American woman and our Police Commissioner and African American man support this new rule. If the women do not comply there will be suspensions and perhaps some may even be fired. Some of these women are the bread winners of the family."

Does the Riverside Police Department have a similar policy in place? One will have to check its policy and procedures manual to see if it does or not. However, several years back, I did see a Black male police officer wearing short braids who testified at a criminal trial. His hairstyle did not diminish his professionalism on the witness stand. Another Black male officer appeared at a city council meeting, wearing cornrows.

On the other hand, another police officer from the same police department testified during the civil trial stemming from Officer Roger Sutton's law suit that he had a son who had worn his hair in cornrows. When he was asked by one of the attorneys when he had stopped allowing his son to wear his hair this way, he answered, when his son had entered junior high school. Earlier this same officer, who had worked as a field training officer, testified that quite a few young Black men who wore cornrows that he encountered on the streets had served time in state prison. This hairstyle was one of many different factors that might contribute to young Black men being stopped by a police officer but was not enough to warrant a traffic pretext stop by itself, according to his testimony.

However, it was what he didn't tell the jury that left quite an impression on it in terms of the message he was sending both as a field training officer and as a father of a Black son who may be stopped by police officers including those he trained.

In 1999, former RPD officer, Rene Rodriguez had made allegations that at least one of his field training officers had taught him to stop young Black men who had cornrows. At least four of his field training officers, three White and one Latino, denied ever instructing him or any other new police officer to do so. Rodriguez's allegations were revisited after Sutton, a Black officer, filed his own law suit in 2000. Last year, that law suit culminated in a six-week trial which ended when the jury awarded Sutton with a $1.64 million verdict.

Talk Left magazine discusses a different policy used by Baltimore's police department which many have argued involves racial profiling.

Baltimore Police Department's "stop and frisk" policy


William Elliott Jr., 40, is a frequent target, and he complains that he is often stopped without cause. ..."They think everybody is a drug dealer," he said as he walked through the Park Heights neighborhood. He said he has been stopped and frisked so many times that he has lost count. Elliott said an officer recently stopped and searched him while he was walking one of his children to a school bus stop.

The department's police officers' association has also complained about the policy's implementation through its leadership.

"We get calls all the time from [officers] saying 'I just can't keep this pace up. ... People are tired of me pulling up and harassing them,'" said Roussey, the police union president. "It's all about numbers, and it doesn't matter how you get them."

In that same article, it listed one police officer who had conducted nearly 500 "stop and frisks" in a few months and did not find one gun. That indeed sounds like a numbers game, where quantity, meaning young Black men, means much more than quality, meaning viable suspects. And it turns out that in Baltimore's police department, officers are not required to provide explanations for conducting these stops. Many don't, which creates even more problems involving distrust in the communities they police.

According to the article, about six African-Americans are stopped and searched by police officers for every White person that is treated in a similar fashion. It didn't say how many of those stopped by police officers wore hairstyles on the newly formed banned list.

So will the leadership of Baltimore and its police department rethink this policy and its implementation that has been criticized by both involved parties? Will they consider the relationship between this policy and its implementation and the latest policy admonishing African-Americans in the police department not to wear hairstyles that do not as one person put it, conform with European standards. Probably not.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older