New York police to stop forcing Muslim women to remove headscarves during arrest

New York City Police Department vehicle [Image for representational purpose only]. Source: Wikipedia / Kevin.B

The New York police department has agreed to stop forcing Muslim women to remove their headscarves for arrest photos and detentions, following several costly lawsuits over the practice, reported Middle East Eye.

In an effort to settle one of the more recent suits, the police have agreed to change its policy and allow religious people to be photographed in head coverings as long as their faces are left visible.

The two-year-old lawsuit was brought on by Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz, each of whom experienced separate incidents of having to remove their hijabs at the demand of the police department.

“It was appalling that this was happening for so many years in New York and that our city was betraying the values of religious inclusion,” said Albert Fox Cahn, a lawyer who represented the women in their suit. “But now we won’t see any more New Yorkers subjected to this discriminatory policy.”

In Clark’s original complaint, she recounted breaking down in tears, saying she felt naked after being forced to remove her hijab for hours when she was detained in January 2017 on a low-level charge of violating an order of protection.

According to the news portal, in August of that year Aziz was arrested on similar charges in Brooklyn. She said police made her take off her hijab for an official arrest photo in a crowded hallway with dozens of male prisoners watching.

Under the new settlement, authorities would not be allowed to force women to remove their head coverings unless needed for a search, and the department has agreed to document for the next three years any instance in which it forced someone to remove religious headwear.

Meanwhile, officers will be trained to “take all possible steps, when consistent with personal safety”, to allow prisoners to keep their headwear on in order to respect their “privacy, rights and religious beliefs”.

The policy change, reached in federal district court in Manhattan, will allow other religious groups the freedom to wear other types of head coverings as well, such as skullcaps and wigs worn by Orthodox Jews and the turbans worn by Sikhs, among others.

The agreement was the latest example of the NYPD changing policy to accommodate religious practices.

After a similar lawsuit filed in 2016, the department approved a new policy to allow officers to wear turbans and grow beards for religious reasons.

In a statement on Monday, Patricia Miller, chief of the Special Federal Litigation Division of the city law department, praised the latest policy change as “a good reform for the N.Y.P.D.”.

“It carefully balances the department’s respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the legitimate law enforcement need to take arrest photos, and should set an example for other police departments in the country,” she said.