Practicing Sikhs Find NYPD Policy on Turbans, Beards Unwelcoming

Some Sikhs, such as Harpreet Singh Toor (above), feel unwelcome in the NYPD because of regulations that prohibit headdresses and long beards. (Photo by Billy Rennison via The Queens Courier)

The recent shooting rampage that killed six and wounded others in a Wisconsin Sikh temple put anti-Sikh venom on the national agenda. But many Sikhs say that discrimination and harassment is nothing new in post-9/11 America — and some see it even at institutions such as the New York City Police Department, which does not allow officers to wear the headdresses and long beards that are traditional in Sikh culture, reported the Queens Courier.

“For this past decade, especially since 9/11, [Sikhs] have been the target of insults, of hate crimes of misunderstandings, of discrimination, even along official channels of government,” said City Comptroller John Liu, who called for the NYPD to amend its policy.

The Mayor’s office told the Queens Courier that around 19 Sikhs currently serve as police officers citywide. But for some devout Sikh men, who do not trim their hair and wear turbans in accordance with their faith, regulations that prohibit headdresses and require officers to keep their beards short discourage enlistment. Amardeep Singh, director of programs at the Sikh Coalition, said that other police departments around the country allow officers to wear religious clothing, while New York remains an exception.

 “The idea that [Sikhs] can’t be police officers in the neighborhoods that they grew up in New York City is utterly ridiculous,” he said.

“Until we have a Sikh employed in the NYPD with a beard and turban, we will not be really understood,” said Harpreet Singh Toor, media consultant for the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill. “It makes us feel like we are less of an American than anyone else.”

In its settlement of a lawsuit filed by Sikh transportation workers, the MTA recently discarded its policy of requiring its Sikh and Muslim workers who wear religious headdress to either brand their turban or headscarves with an MTA logo or work out of public view. The United States army also gives individual exemptions to Sikh soldiers wear turbans.

An NYPD spokesperson told the Queens Courier that Sikhs may wear turbans as long as they are dark blue and fit under a police cap, and that beards are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. But these concessions are not enough to combat anti-Sikh sentiments, said advocates.

“It’s very important that government itself, particularly law enforcement, is not excluding our community if we’re even going to make a dent in this larger public perception that turban equals terrorist,” said Singh.

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