A college class assignment may have gotten a Philadelphia police officer into some hot water.
William Thrasher, a white cop in the 22nd District, at 17th and Montgomery, has been put on desk duty after an article written by a Temple University student quoted him describing his disgust for black people in the district where he works, likening them to animals and calling their problems "typical n---- s---," or "TNS," during a ride-along with the student Jan. 30.
The article enraged The Guardian Civic League, an organization of black Philadelphia police officers, which is calling for his dismissal.
"[Thrasher] took an oath to protect all people," said Rochelle Bilal, who heads the group. "If that's the way he feels about black people, then he needs to be off our streets."
The police Internal Affairs department is investigating. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said that that kind of inflammatory rhetoric will not be tolerated within the department.
"I'm not happy with this at all," he said. "I take this very, very seriously. It's not supposed to happen. You can't serve people you don't respect."
Thrasher, 24, of Tacony, joined the force in February 2007, and was assigned to the 22nd District, a mostly black area of North Philadelphia.
The rookie cop made the incendiary remarks as he escorted Shannon McDonald, a senior journalism student, around the district, said Chris Harper, an associate journalism professor who edited the article.
The district is bordered by Montgomery and Lehigh avenues, 10th and 33rd streets.
At one point during the three-hour ride, Thrasher was quoted as saying that people in the neighborhood "don't care about each other. . . . They'll shoot each other for drugs, for money, for bull----. All they care about is their reputation. They want to look tough."
Thrasher was quoted recounting a homicide that occurred in the area: "These people are f------ disgusting," he told McDonald. "It's like they're animals."
Later in the article he defended his statements by claiming he isn't racist.
"I'm not racist," McDonald quoted him as saying in the article, which appeared on a Web site for Temple's Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab. "I work with black people every day. They have jobs, they support their families, they're good people. Most of the people who live in this area are bad people. And they happen to be black."
Numerous calls to Thrasher's home went unanswered.
Bilal, a 23-year veteran with the force, said that Thrasher's comments suggest that he resents the people he is supposed to serve, and Bilal regrets that some officers bring that prejudice to the job.
"It's the mindset of some of us [police officers] who haven't been brought up in the city, or around people of color," she said, referring to her dual identity of being a cop and an African-American.
Police spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore cautioned not to immediately judge the officer.
"We don't know the validity of this article," he said. "This is a student journalist. We don't know how much of what she wrote is true, or who was there. There are a lot of variables."
Harper said that he reviewed McDonald's notes and stands by her story.
"I think Shannon and I were both amazed by the statements that were made by the police officer," Harper said. "They're clearly racist, they're disturbing.
"The language [Thrasher used] is disturbing if it comes from anyone, in particular, a police officer," he added.
Bilal, who grew up in North Philadelphia, near Marshall Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, said: "I was sick when I read that. I've lived in the city for 52 years and they've never disgusted me. My family is in North Philadelphia. Not everybody is a criminal."
Race relations in the city have long been strained, and an incident like the one in which Thrasher is accused doesn't help, said Chad Lassiter, an adjunct lecturer at the Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.
"We want our police officers to have a moral imperative," he said. "We don't want them to display bigotry, discrimination and other forms of prejudice."
Lassiter said that racism would impede an officer from objectively serving in the community.
"He can arrest and brutalize someone given he's in the position of authority," he said. "It's not true justice."
He said that if the allegations are true, Thrasher should undergo sensitivity and diversity training.
Meanwhile, Bilal and the civic league will meet tomorrow to decide how to proceed, she said.
"As a police officer, I was ashamed that I have a colleague who describes a group of people the way he did. Disciplinary action is a slap on the hand," she said.
"They need to tell him to find a new career." *