At least 10 Black women have filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Washington D.C. for widespread discrimination. Among them is Chanel Dickerson, who, as assistant police chief, is the highest-ranking Black woman in the department. According to NBC News, during a community meeting Tuesday, Dickerson shared a personal secret: As an 18-year-old cadet, she was told she had to get an abortion to keep her job.
“My choice to have a baby was personal, and it should’ve been mine alone and not for an employer ultimatum,” Dickerson said. “I was told I had to have an abortion or be fired from the MPD cadet program.”
While it is unclear what happened afterward, Dickerson has been with the department since 1988. She, alongside other current or former female D.C. police officers, filed a lawsuit last month alleging they were discriminated against based on their race and sex. Because the division in charge of harassment is run by a man, the Dickerson shared that they were not only treated with hostility but discredited as they came forward.
“I understand the dire consequences to me participating in this lawsuit,” Dickerson said when the lawsuit was filed in September. She also shared then that she had been subjected to repeated sexual harassment.
During the meeting, Dickerson noted she never became a mother, and spoke of misconduct involving another female officer who was trying to be assigned to a different shift.
“Fast forward from that time, I think about how my female colleagues, when I was promoted to sergeant. And it was another sergeant who was promoted with me, and she needed a shift that was conducive to taking care of her child as a single mother. Unfortunately, she had to do things no woman should ever have to do to care for her child.”
According to FOX 5, Dickerson had not initially planned to share her story at the community meeting, but did so in the moment. Her decision gave others the courage to speak up.
Following Dickerson’s claim, another woman spoke up, saying she faced the same ultimatum: have an abortion or be fired. An officer for the last 24 years, Karen Arikpo told the meeting members, and later, FOX 5, that in 1997—when she was still a cadet—she got pregnant. When she found out that abortions were required to avoid being fired, Arikpo told her class sergeant. “She said I needed to have an abortion, and she referred me to a doctor in D.C. to get it done.”
Arikpo never spoke about the experience to anyone, including her husband. “I just thought this was something I would take to my grave,” she said. “I thought I could hide it,” she said. “Just get through the academy and hide it.” After that, Arikpo noted that she never told anyone else what happened until she learned Assistant Chief Dickerson had experienced the same thing as a cadet.
According to FOX 5, the same sergeant told both Dickerson and Arikpo about the consequences of getting pregnant. That sergeant is no longer with the department. Their allegations were corroborated by a male officer who was also in the class and heard the ultimatum.
Arikpo, who regrets aborting her baby, said she contacted Dickerson after realizing she was not alone.
“It’s so unfair,” Arikpo said. “And now I’ve never been able to have a kid. All these years, I’ve tried, and I’ve never been able to have a baby.” Devastated, she shared that while she has tried fertility treatment, it has not worked.
“I did this for a job,” she said. “And then to want kids and can’t have them. How do you tell people that?”
It is unclear if Arikpo is a part of the class-action lawsuit. While Dickerson is a part of the class lawsuit, her abortion claim is not included in it.
In addition to the class lawsuit by the 10 Black former or current officers, another was filed this week by three more Black women alleging abuse and retaliation. All three were former cadets who claim they were retaliated against and mistreated after cooperating in an internal investigation against a superior.
When asked about Dickerson’s claim by NBC News, the Metropolitan Police Department said that it could not comment on pending litigation but “is committed to treating all members fairly and equitably throughout our organization.”
In a statement regarding what happens today when recruits and cadets get pregnant, the department told FOX 5: “If a recruit gets pregnant while at the academy, she will be placed in a future class upon completion of her leave. If a cadet gets pregnant, she would continue the educational piece with modified PT, per guidance of a medical professional.”
Reproductive rights are fundamental human rights. Each person should have the right to decide what they want to do with their body. No one should have to make the choice between being pregnant or keeping a job.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.