By Katia Pechenkina
Special to the AFRO

Since Chanel Dickerson became a cadet at the age of 17 and she said that she has experienced different forms of discrimination over the course of her career. “We’re often viewed as being allowed to work here, instead of being entitled to work with whatever profession that we want,” Dickerson said in an interview. Dickerson, the assistant chief of the Youth and Family Engagement Bureau, has spent a total of 33 years working for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

Ten Black female officers, currently involved in a class action lawsuit filed earlier this fall, claim that sexist and racist behavior has been prevalent in the MPD, creating a culture of degrading female employees and retaliation against them. The plaintiffs allege they have experienced sexual harassment and racial discrimination in the workplace and have been ignored or retaliated against.

The lawsuit reflects on the ongoing problems harming many police departments in the United States that are currently dealing with the employment crisis. Retirements have increased by 45% while the resignation rate increased by 18%, according to the findings of the non-profit think tank Police Executive Research Forum’s (PERF) special report based on the survey of almost 200 police departments conducted in June 2021.

“I believe that our employer failed to protect us,” said Dickerson.

Standing up for the women who work at the MPD, and particularly, women of color was one of the determining factors for Dickerson to participate in filing the class action lawsuit. As the second highest ranked police officer in the MPD, she is concerned about not only the safety of the District’s residents, but also about the wellbeing of her employees.

“I care about my legacy of what I leave behind for the people who come after me,” said Dickerson. “I plan to leave, and I can leave with my retirement and pursue my other goals, I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror to say that I left a department of culture that’s so embedded in injustices just everyone else that you just have to deal with it.”

Dickerson believes that it was going to take more than a police chief to invoke changes in the MPD, and that the department needs to ensure equality by implementing new policies. “We need a lot of work here. I participated in a lawsuit because I wanted some legal mandates to say you must do this. And that was the only way that I could ensure that it would stay long term,” she said.

Dickerson spoke on her own personal experience and not on behalf of the MPD.

Pam Keith, the attorney with Donald Temple Law who represents the plaintiffs, said her clients are taking “tremendous risk” by coming forward, and that they should have been respected and listened to instead of being left out.

Keith added that she is hoping to help people, and particularly young people, to understand how sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace affect women across the entire workforce. “Devaluing the contributions of women affects the mission and the efficacy of an enterprise,” she said in an interview.

“You can’t actually stop those kinds of things from happening, if you don’t get to the heart of why you’re in the first place,” said Keith. “The things alleged in the case are about ongoing problems that are harming the policing of our city, and it is their responsibility to do more than just sit back and see what happens with the case.”

“While we cannot discuss the specific allegations due to pending litigation, the Metropolitan Police Department is committed to treating all members fairly and equitably throughout our organization. We take these allegations seriously and we will be reviewing them thoroughly and responding accordingly,” MPD public affairs specialist Brianna Burch said in an email.