NYPD sued over its hijab removal policy

HOST: A class action lawsuit was filed recently against the NYPD, over their religious head covering removal policy. The plaintiffs named in the case are two Muslim women who claim the police forced them to remove their hijab when taking arrest photographs. The lawsuit is an indicator of how bad relations between Muslim women and the police are. This is especially a problem in a community where domestic violence often stays unaddressed. Juliette Jabkhiro reports.

JABKHIRO: Arwa Aziz was arrested in August 2017 over a domestic dispute with her sister in law. Charges were eventually dropped. But when she was taken to Brooklyn Central to be photographed, NYPD officers asked her to remove her hijab. She told them she couldn’t. They said it was the law. So she did remove it, in tears.

FREEMAN : It was so obvious that Ms. Aziz was suffering, that many of the male prisoners who were standing in the hallway while the photograph was being taken turned their backs, in an effort to give her some basic mode of privacy. But the NYPD did nothing of the kind

JABKHIRO: Emma Freeman is one of the lawyers representing Aziz in the case. The class action lawsuit is seeking to change the NYPD policy of removing religious head covering for arrest mug shots. Freeman says for Muslim women, removing the hijab is more than just a matter of modesty

FREEMAN: It goes to the very core of who they are, how they conceptualize themselves, how they conceptualize their relationship to their faith, and their, their dignity

NASHER: If a woman feels as if she’s going to be questioned about her faith, or about her modesty, which is very central to her, that could be problematic. You feel as if you’re being victimized

JABKHIRO: That’s Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York, also known as CAIR. CAIR is a civil rights advocacy group, and are attorneys in the case. The lawsuit claims that forcing women to remove the hijab is anti constitutional. But Nasher says that this kind of disrespect for their religion also contributes to mistrust toward the police among Muslim women

NASHER: For anyone at all who has had to deal with law enforcement in a way in which you’re the one that’s being questioned, it’s already a harrowing experience, people are already fearful about it

JABKHIRO: She says the hijab issue could cause reluctance of women to go to the police. Samiah Algahmi works at the An-Noor social center in Bay Ridge, a Brooklyn neighbourhood with a large Muslim population. She says the local precinct has been helpful in providing security against anti-Muslim hate crimes. But even so…

ALGAHMI: They’d think twice, about calling the police, if they needed help

JABKHIRO: And like many women, sometimes Muslim women do need help. Shyda Rashid is a social worker with Sakhi for South Asian Women, an advocacy group fighting domestic violence. She says that Muslim women are particularly vulnerable, because many in the community are first generation immigrants. Rashid told Uptown Radio over the phone there are two main obstacles making it harder for women to report domestic violence. One is the language barrier. And the other is culture:

RASHID: When the victims share their physical, emotional violence issues with their family members, often you know people start counseling them, to make them understand that ‘If you report it to anyone, it will be trouble for you, it will be trouble for your children, and it will put your family down’

JABKHIRO: Rashid says that for Muslim women to trust the police, the NYPD needs to show they understand their cultural background. That’s one thing the class action lawsuit is trying to achieve, by shutting down the hijab removal policy. The NYPD didn’t get back to repeated request for comments. New York City has until April 10 to file their answer to the lawsuit.

Juliette Jabkhiro, Columbia Radio News.

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