An 18-year-old Muslim woman arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest in Miami says her hijab was forcibly removed from her head for a booking photograph and she was not allowed to put it back on for several hours.
Alaa Massri was arrested at a protest June 10, according to the Miami Police Department, and charged with battery, resisting an officer with violence and disorderly conduct. After her arrest, Massri was taken to the Miami-Dade Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, where she says she was asked to remove her hijab for a booking photograph, her lawyer Khurrum Wahid told CNN.
Muslim women who choose to wear the headscarf do not take it off in front of men outside of their immediate families.
After advising the officers that the hijab is a part of her religious beliefs and she did not wish to be photographed without it on, it was forcibly removed from her head, Wahid said. She was not allowed to put her hijab back on for what she estimated to be around seven hours.
Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation, the agency responsible for booking and mugshots, did not respond to CNN’s repeated requests for comment.
Massri’s booking photo, which showed her without her hijab, was then distributed to several news outlets and began circulating on social media, according to Wahid.
“The damage from that cannot be undone,” Wahid told CNN. “That photograph is out there forever. This was a humiliating experience for her. Not just the arrest, but that her religious rights were violated.”
Wahid filed an inquiry to the Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s legal department, seeking additional information about what happened and the names of the officers involved, but has not received a response, he said Tuesday.
“I’m hoping that they respond to our request, but if they do not we will escalate it beyond basic communications,” Wahid told CNN. “We’ve also made an inquiry with their legal department.”
‘They consciously took away her rights’
After her hijab was removed for the booking photo, Massri said, she was made to spend hours without her hijab in the presence of multiple men.
This “completely disrespect(ed) her way of life,” reads a Change.org petition started by Massri a week ago. “They consciously took away her rights to be a woman practicing Islam and spread an image she never thought would be out in the world.”
The petition, which has been signed by more than 125,000 people by Tuesday night, asks for all charges against Massri to be dropped, for her mugshot to be “taken down,” and for the officers involved to be investigated.
According to the Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, there are policies in place to protect people who practice religious beliefs.
“Arrestees who claim or appear to be of a particular faith are allowed to keep their head covering once it has been searched for contraband and the booking photograph has been taken,” a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Corrections said in a statement to CNN affiliate WSVN.
“We are committed to ensuring that individuals’ faith-based beliefs and practices are respected and will review this incident to ensure compliance with our policies and this commitment.”
However, Massri was not searched in a private room and the hijab was forcibly removed from her head while men were present, a violation of both her privacy and religious freedoms, according to Wahid.
“They should have allowed her to keep her hijab on,” Wahid said. “They can easily do a search in a private room with a same-sex officer. There is absolutely no reason not to give her back her hijab after the search or there to be a booking photo without her hijab on. Either the officers ignored the policy in place or the policy is simply not strong enough.”
Forcibly removing the hijab from her head was a “complete disregard” of a central part of her faith and could also be a legal violation, said Omar Saleh, a lawyer for the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has not been asked to assist in Massri’s case.
“The arrest which results in the removal of a hijab during booking and prolonged removal of the hijab is a legal issue and severe violation, not just of the 1st and 14th Amendment, but also the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act,” Saleh told CNN. “Forcing a woman to remove her hijab causes humiliation, mental anguish and distress.”
In 2018, the New York Police Department was ordered to pay $180,000 to three Muslim women after forcing them to remove their hijabs for booking photos, the New York Daily News reported.
Another Minnesota woman received a $120,000 settlement in 2019 after she was forced to remove her hijab following an arrest over a traffic violation, The Star Tribune reported. The jail also implemented new rules regarding proper procedures on how to accommodate inmates with religious headwear.
Linda Sarsour, a political activist and Muslim woman in New York who also wears a hijab, has been arrested during protests several times. Sarsour said an officer once tried to force her to take off her hijab during the booking process, but she said it seemed mainly to be an issue of a lack of proper training.
“For effective police work, it doesn’t make sense to ask Muslim women to take off their hijabs. For every way we are identified by the government, whether it’s our passports, driver’s license, Costco cards, college ID, you name it, this is how we look all the time in public,” Sarsour told CNN.
“It’s illogical for police departments to want Muslim women to take off their hijab because that is not the way we show up in the world. The idea of the database is that the mugshot goes in the database, and if you commit a crime again that database is used to identify you. So how are you going to identify us if the way we show up in your database is not how we show up in the rest of the world?”
To force a Muslim woman to remove her hijab for a photo is “dehumanizing and humiliating and strips you of your dignity,” she added.
The death of George Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody has triggered protests across the country, including the protest where Massri was arrested along with six others.
At one point during the protest, police attempted to “form a skirmish line” to block protesters from taking over the street, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by CNN. At the time of her arrest, Massri, who says she was rushing to help an injured protester, was confronted by multiple police in riot gear, she said in the petition.
The incident report also alleges that Massri hit an officer “in the right bicep with a closed fist” after he “grabbed” her to escort her out of the street after she refused orders to get out of the road. Massri was charged with battery, resisting an officer with violence and disorderly conduct.
“The officer is incorrect. If she unintentionally waved her hand and it made contact, that is not a crime,” Wahid said.
“We are defending her criminal charges, which we strongly believe she committed no battery on a police office and did not intentionally strike the officer. I strongly believe she will be exonerated of that.”
Massri was released on $5,000 bond on June 11 and her arraignment hearing is set on July 10, her lawyer said.