Monday, September 21, 2009

It Must be Racist: Philly Cop Told to Lose the Cornrows

Sorry to lead you all along there. This can't be racist. The cop is white.
To get booted off the street, a police officer has to do something pretty serious - like shoot a suspect or be accused of brutality.

But in the 35th District, which covers Logan, Olney and adjacent neighborhoods, apparently a hairdo will do it.

A cop who got cornrows was ordered off the street and kept on desk duty for two days until he cut his braids off, sources said.

While dozens of black officers across the city wear cornrows, Officer Thomas Strain is white. So when the five-year veteran showed up for work Sept. 3 with the traditionally black hairstyle, it didn't take long for his colleagues - or his bosses - to notice.

"They pulled him out of roll call and took him right up to the inspector's office," said an officer who asked to remain anonymous.

Reached last week, Strain declined to comment about the hair hubbub.

But multiple officers in the 35th say it's been hot gossip, overshadowed only by worries of potential police layoffs, which were averted Thursday when the state agreed to help alleviate the city's budget woes.

"It's absolutely discriminatory," said one officer. Strain's cornrows 'do "was neat. It was above his collar. It's not like he shaved a Nazi sign or something anti-black or anti-Hispanic on his head. It's just cornrows. I don't know what the problem is."

The problem, police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore said, is that Strain's superior didn't feel his cornrows were "professional."

Ordering Strain to chop them off had nothing to do with discrimination, added Vanore, who spoke with Inspector Aaron Horne about the incident.

Horne, who oversees the Northwest Police Division, which includes the 35th District, is the supervisor who directed Strain to banish the braids.

"The policy's the policy, it doesn't matter what race you are," Vanore said.

Police policy requires officers to have "clean, properly trimmed and combed hair" that doesn't prevent them from wearing their uniform hat "in a military-manner," Vanore said.

The policy prohibits "unnatural" hair colors such as blue, purple or green but doesn't ban specific styles, such as cornrows, mohawks, dreadlocks or bouffants.

Vanore didn't see Strain's cornrows, but speculated that they may have kept his hat from fitting his head in the required military manner. He couldn't explain why black officers with cornrows weren't ordered to get haircuts - unless they're women, because the hair policy for female officers is slightly more permissive.
Frankly, I'd wear cornrows before I'm caught with a bouffant, but hey, that's just my personal preference. Of course, I hardly have enough hair to do either.

Anyway, if there's no policy banning cornrows and many of the black officers wear them, what's the point in singling out this guy?
As for Strain, friends describe him as a hardworking cop who hails from a family of police officers and who adores police work.

The former Marine served in Iraq, where he twice survived explosions when his Hummer hit roadside bombs in 2006, co-workers said.

"He's a guy that, when things go bad, you want him there," one officer said.
Exactly the point. Who cares what he does with his hair so long as it's not against regulation. What matters is if he can do the job, and by all accounts he's well-respected by his peers.

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