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CAIR-LA Files Federal Lawsuit Accusing Long Beach Police of Stripping Woman of Hijab

Muslim women like Kirsty Powell, above, face increasing discrimination. (CAIR-LA)

Muslim women like Kirsty Powell, above, face increasing discrimination. (CAIR-LA)

Long Beach, Calif., is embroiled in another Muslim-related controversy — the second in less than two years.

A male officer in the Long Beach Police Department allegedly removed a woman’s hijab, or religious headscarf, by force during an arrest, and now the United States’ largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization seeks justice. The Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA) has filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles for Kirsty Powell, a practicing Muslim-American woman who allegedly was denied her right to wear a hijab by the LBPD.

CAIR-LA writes:

Kirsty Powell and her husband, who are both African-American, were driving near Market St. and Long Beach Boulevard when they were pulled over by the LBPD. Powell was arrested on an outstanding warrant. During the arrest she was told by the officers that she would have to remove her head scarf. Powell made several requests for a female officer to search her. The officers informed her that she was, “not allowed to wear her hijab” and that they were “allowed to touch a woman.”

While handcuffed at the station house, the arresting officer allegedly forcibly removed Powell’s religious head covering and forced her to remain exposed overnight, in plain view of other male officers and dozens of inmates.

“The actions taken by the Long Beach Police officers were unwarranted and a serious violation of Mrs. Powell’s bodily integrity,” said CAIR-LA Civil Rights attorney Yalda Satar. “The manner in which Mrs. Powell was treated by LBPD officers was simply a show of authority over a woman of color who was unable to protect herself, and is another example of the type of discrimination faced by women who wear a hijab.”

Observant Muslim women believe that Islam requires them to “cover their hair and much of their body as a symbol of modesty, especially while in the presence of men who are not related to them.”

The lawsuit—filed in conjunction with First Amendment and Human Rights attorney Carey Shenkman—claims that Powell remained exposed in a cell overnight and alleges violations under the First Amendment, Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), Bane Act and the California Constitution.

“I would never want anyone to go through what I felt from this experience,” Powell said. “It was horrible. I want my Muslim sisters to always feel comfortable and safe wearing a hijab and to stand up for what’s right. We are all human, we all deserve justice.”

Muslims are the fastest-growing religious group in the world, and according to Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, they have been in what is now the United States for over 400 years, since African slaves arrived in the 17th century. Muslims now make up 1 percent of the total U.S. population, or 3.3 million people, the Pew Research Center reports.

CAIR outlines Islamic beliefs for law enforcement in “A Law Enforcement Official’s Guide to the Muslim Community,” a booklet that includes information on how to handle body searches with religiously sensitive techniques.

In 2014, the LBPD deemed an incident involving the removal of a Muslim-American woman’s hijab a “hate crime,” and then-police chief Jim McDonnell said that “crimes of this nature will not be tolerated in our city.”

—Posted by Eric Ortiz

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