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Headgear ban sparks melee between police, Muslim park patrons

From Kiran Khalid, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Muslims were celebrating Eid al-Fitr; women were wearing the hijab
  • Rye Playland employees sought to enforce headgear ban on park rides
  • Westchester County Police responded; confrontation became violent
  • CAIR official says women felt they were being discriminated against

Rye, New York (CNN) -- What was meant to be a celebration marking the end of Ramadan turned into a melee at an amusement park on Tuesday when a group of Muslim women were told they weren't allowed on certain rides with their headscarves.

Rye Playland was full of visitors celebrating Eid al-Fitr when the festive mood turned angry. Westchester County Police said the women wearing the hijab, a traditional Muslim headscarf, became argumentative when park employees enforced the no-headgear policy and men sprang to their defense.

"(The rule) didn't get relayed to the people who attended, so some people got upset," said Westchester County Police Capt. Thomas Gleason.

Fifteen people were arrested and two charged with felony assault after two park rangers sustained minor injuries.

Among those arrested were three women wearing the hijab. Police shut down the park for several hours during the incident.

"It had to do with headgear. People -- patrons -- are not allowed to wear headgear on rides for safety reasons," Gleason said.

Zead Ramadan, spokesman for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said members of the Muslim American Society who had organized the outing asked him to come to the park to mediate. Ramadan said the women felt they had been targeted by park employees because of their religious views.

"They're the most obvious Muslims around because they have hijabs on. They felt they were discriminated against," Ramadan said.

"Maybe there was a level of frustration that went around across the board," Ramadan said. "Then you have the parks people who are trying to explain this and do their job."

Ramadan said he saw a cell-phone video showing police "yanking a hijabi-wearing woman out of the crowd."

"She was very small. They turn her around and throw her down on the ground." Ramadan said that's when the crowd got very angry.

"Nobody was assaulted prior to the police being called, and that in itself is a problem," Ramadan said.

Gleason said he was aware "there was some cell-phone footage and maybe some video,"

"There's no official video that we have released at this time," he said. "There are some videos in the park that we're retaining for our own information."

Gleason said he had seen seen "bits and pieces" of phone footage from the incident.

He said park officials told the Muslim organizers about the headgear ban but that information wasn't relayed to the group of visitors.

Ramadan chalked the whole incident up to "miscommunication."

"The women felt they were being targeted, but in fact these were safety precautions," he said. "And maybe (the park) didn't do the best job in disclosing those precautions."

But Westchester County Parks Deputy Commissioner Peter Tartaglia says the policy was made abundantly clear to the group's organizer, and that the rules are clearly posted.

"We repeatedly told him, because we knew this group would have religious headgear," Tartaglia insisted adding that a refund booth was set up in case anyone objected to the policy, which he said is posted prominently in the park.

"There's a sign at every ride," Tartaglia said. "When you enter the park, there's a height line and it lists headgear policy.

"What triggered the incident was fighting within the group and the subject was why they didn't know the policy," said Tartaglia, adding that he arrived at the scene about 20 minutes after the fight broke out. He said police were called when it appeared the altercation could lead to a riot.

Ride safety precautions posted on its website include the following safety rule:

"Hats must be secured, and jackets/sweaters must be worn properly and not around the waist while on a ride. Some rides do not allow backpacks, purses or head gear of any kind."

Rye Playland, also known as Playland Amusement Park, is located about 17 miles northeast of the Bronx in Westchester County.