HomeAsian AmericansNYC to pay $17.5M for police forcing women to remove hijabs

NYC to pay $17.5M for police forcing women to remove hijabs

New York City agreed to pay $17.5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by two Muslim women who were forced by the New York Police Department to remove their hijabs for mug shots. 

The lawsuit was filed in 2018 by Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz in an effort to change NYPD requirements to remove religious attire before being photographed, The Guardian reported. Clark and Aziz explained they felt shame and trauma when forced to take off their head coverings. 

“When they forced me to take off my hijab, I felt as if I were naked. I’m not sure if words can capture how exposed and violated I felt,” Clark said in a statement, CBS News reported. “I’m so proud today to have played a part in getting justice for thousands of New Yorkers.”

Clark, who was arrested on Jan. 9, 2017, was threatened with prosecution by the police officers if she refused to take off her hijab. She was arrested for violating a bogus protective order filed by her abusive former husband, The New York Times reported. 

Aziz, who was arrested on Aug. 30, 2017, said she also was arrested due to a bogus protective order and “felt broken” as she was forced to be photographed in front of a dozen male officers and over 30 male inmates.

Initially, New York City officials defended the practice of requiring people to remove head coverings for mug shots, explaining there is “the important law enforcement need to take arrest photos,” The Guardian noted.

In 2020, however, the police department changed their policy as part of an initial settlement of the lawsuit, The New York Times reported. The revision would allow people to continue wearing their head coverings for mug shots, with minimal expectations including if the attire covers the person’s facial features.

The new policy was extended to other religious attire such as wigs and yarmulkes worn by Jews and turbans worn by Sikhs, The Guardian reported. 

O. Andrew F. Wilson, a lawyer for Clark and Aziz, said, “Forcing someone to remove their religious clothing is like a strip search. This substantial settlement recognizes the profound harm to the dignity of those who wear religious head coverings that comes from forced removal.”

Albert Fox Cahn, another lawyer representing the women, said the settlement “sends a powerful message that the NYPD can’t violate New Yorkers’ first amendment rights without paying a price,” The Guardian reported. 

“This settlement resulted in a positive reform for the NYPD,” said Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, The Guardian reported. “The agreement carefully balances the department’s respect for firmly held religious beliefs with the important law enforcement need to take arrest photos.”’

The money from the settlement will be distributed to eligible class members. People who were forced to remove their head coverings between March 16, 2014, and August 23, 2021 are eligible for the settlement, according to The Guardian.

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