A Muslim woman is suing the City of Yonkers after local police allegedly forced her to remove her hijab.
According to the civil lawsuit obtained by the Huffington Post, 42-year-old Ihsan Malkawi has accused the police department of violating her religious rights after she was taken into custody last year. The complaint states Malkawi and her husband were arrested in August 2019 on "false allegations of abuse." During the booking process, officers allegedly told the woman to remove her head covering for the booking photo. Malkawi pleaded with the officers to allow her to retain the hijab, as it was "not a fashion accessory, but an essential component of her religion."
The suit alleges police denied the request, with one officer falsely telling Malkawi that the law required her to remove the covering. Malkawi complied and would spent the next 36 hours without her hijab. During that time, she made a court appearance in front of at least a dozen men, the lawsuit states.
"I just wanted them to respect my rights, but I felt like they didn’t care," Malkawi told HuffPost. "From the first minute, I felt discriminated against."
Malkawi's arrest stems from a family dispute involving her adolescent daughter. According to legal documents, the child had tried to run away from home because she desired to return to Michigan, where the family previously lived. The child reportedly called the police a day later and claimed her parents had assaulted her with a belt and a curtain rod. Authorities arrived at the Malkawis' residence shortly after, and the parents were questioned separately by New York Child Protective Services.
According to the lawsuit, CPS investigator Richard Bradley did not find the daughter's allegations credible, and allegedly told Malkawi he did not know why officers were acting "with such a heightened level of formality ... He suggested that the YPD was taking aggressive steps because Ms. Malkawi wears a hijab."
"There is no legitimate need for law enforcement to remove religious head coverings for mug shots or any other purpose," attorney Emma L. Freeman of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady told HuffPost. "In 2020, the state should not be coercing people in its custody to violate their religious beliefs."
Malkawi says as a result of the incident, she continues to suffer from "mental anguish, physical and emotional distress, humiliation, and embarrassment." She is seeking unspecified damages.