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New York Police fined for allegedly forcing women to remove hijabs

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Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz both alleged they were forced to remove their hijabs in front of male New York police officers.
New York police hijabs

Thousands of people who were allegedly forced to remove their religious head coverings (i.e. hijabs) by the New York Police Department (NYPD) are expected to receive a share of $US17.5 million ($AU26.7 million) in compensation.

The city of New York has been ordered to pay the settlement relating to a policy it’s since scrapped. The settlement does not include any admission of wrongdoing by the NYPD.

It’s the result of a 2018 class action led by two Muslim women who were allegedly forced to remove their hijabs (a head covering that represents modesty and faith) for mug shots.

Background

Laws introduced in March 2014 gave New York Police Department officers powers to forcibly remove a person’s religious head covering, such as hijabs. That policy was scrapped, with some exceptions, in 2020.

Turning Point is an organisation for Muslim women and girls who are victim-survivors of domestic violence. It launched a religious discrimination lawsuit against the NYPD in 2018 after two women were allegedly forced to remove their hijabs for mug shots after being arrested in separate incidents.

Many Muslim women wear a hijab. It is not usually removed around men.

Women forced to remove hijabs by New York police

Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz both alleged they were forced to remove their hijabs in front of male police officers.

Clark said she felt “exposed and violated”, and “begged” police to let her “put her hijab back on.” Clark says she was arrested for breaching a protective order (like an AVO) filed by her ex-husband. Her lawyers alleged the order was made under false pretences by her abusive former husband.

Aziz, who was arrested under similar circumstances, alleged she had her photo taken without her hijab in front of around 12 male officers and over 30 male inmates. It left her “frantic [and] weeping”.

The Turning Point class action was brought on behalf of Clark, Aziz, and an estimated 3,600 people allegedly impacted by NYPD’s head dress policy, on the basis of religious discrimination.

Guideline change

In response to the lawsuit, the New York Police Department agreed to introduce new guidelines for officers around hijabs and other religious head coverings in 2020.

The guidelines state that if someone is arrested, they have a right to keep their religious head coverings on while in custody.

However, if a photograph needs to be taken that requires the head covering to be removed, it must be done in private by an officer of the same gender.

Settlement

Thousands of people are now expected to receive compensation payments of up to $US13,000 ($AU19,800).

The women’s lawyers said: “Forcing someone to remove their religious clothing is like a strip search.”

Clark said: “I hope no New Yorker has to experience what I went through.”

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