‘Embarrassing’: New Jersey PD Not Only Disciplined Cop for Wearing Bantu Knots But Also Reprimanded Her Sergeants for Refusing to Discriminate Against Her, Lawsuit Says  

A New Jersey police officer filed a discrimination lawsuit after she was disciplined for wearing her hair in Bantu knots. Chian Weekes-Rivera is a 10-year veteran of the Maplewood Township Police Department.

The lawsuit, obtained by Atlanta Black Star, was filed against the Township of Maplewood and MPD Captain Peter Kuenzel on Oct. 30 at the state Superior Court in Essex County.

Chian Weekes-Rivera
Officer Chian Weekes-Rivera of the Maplewood Township PD in Maplewood Township, NJ. (Photo: courtesy of John Coyle)

The complaint states that Weekes-Rivera who wore her hair in Bantu knots — a traditional African hairstyle — on Aug. 20 was in “violation” of the dress code. She was disciplined 11 days later on Aug. 31.

The lawsuit also states that her supervising sergeants were disciplined for refusing to discriminate against Weekes-Rivera.

“On August 31, 2023, Officer Weekes-Rivera was notified of an Internal Affairs Complaint regarding her ‘violation’ of Maplewood R&R 4.7.2 Manner of Dress on Duty,” states the lawsuit. “Her hair in Bantu Knots, but her supervising Sergeants were disciplined for ‘failure to supervise’ when they decidedly refused to discriminate against Officer Weekes-Rivera for her hairstyle.”

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Kuenzel also reportedly told Weekes-Rivera that she violated policy by wearing her hair in “rollers.”

“To get that paper, it was cringeworthy,” recalled Weekes-Rivera. “I had to ask him questions to stop myself from crying… It’s super embarrassing. It makes me feel like less than.” 

Weekes-Rivera — who also was involved in an earlier, separate lawsuit against Maplewood that was brought by city employees challenging COVID-19 vaccination mandates — is requesting that a judge force Kuenzel and the township to comply with the CROWN Act and turn over policy copies on officers’ hairstyles as well as complaints about her hairstyle, according to the New Jersey Monitor.

The CROWN Act says that “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles” are protected from discrimination. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the “Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair Act” back in 2019.

“Race-based discrimination will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey,” said the governor. “No one should be made to feel uncomfortable or be discriminated against because of their natural hair. I am proud to sign this law in order to help ensure that all New Jersey residents can go to work, school, or participate in athletic events with dignity.” 

The law was signed after then-16-year-old Andrew Johnson was forced to cut his locs to participate in a varsity high school wrestling match.

“I cried when I saw that,” said the MPD officer. “I’m a woman with locs. And for this young man to be told, ‘You can’t play because of your hair,’ it’s heartbreaking. What do you tell Black children? What do you tell Black people who just want to love themselves and thrive like everyone else? We can’t control how our hair grows and how we might be different from the masses. To love yourself however you wake up, it’s hard to do.”

Weekes-Rivera’s attorney, John Coyle, says that the township sends “a chilling message” by discriminating against his client — who was featured in the MPD’s “Sheroes of the Maplewood Police Department” back in 2021.

“Maplewood is trying to send a chilling message to the entire department that not only are we going to discriminate against Chian,” said Coyle. “We are going to hold other people accountable for not discriminating against her.”

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and costs of suit and “Such other relief as the Court may deem proper and just.”

Read the original story here.

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