Together with the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel LLP (ECBAWM) filed a class-action civil rights law lawsuit in federal court seeking an injunction to block the New York City Police Department (NYPD) from removing arrestees’ religious head coverings (like hijabs) for their booking photos.
The lawsuit claims that NYPD Patrol Guide Order 208-03 and 208-07 forces religiously observant women to remove their head coverings for a booking photo, even when these garments leave the face completely unobstructed, as the hijab does.
CAIR-NY and ECBAWM filed the lawsuit this morning in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the NYPD photograph policy violates the New York State Constitution, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).
As the lawsuit notes, municipalities across the country allow arrestees to retain religious head covering for their booking photos. In addition, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles allows women to retain their hijab for driver’s license photos, and the U.S. State Department allows women to retain their hijab in passport photos.
NYPD booking photos are kept in arrestees’ files and computer databases where they are readily visible to officers and other men, compounding arrestees’ sense of violation.
“Our city is quick to make progressive promises, but slow to enact reforms,” said CAIR NY Legal Director Albert Fox Cahn. “This is a moment when Muslim New Yorkers need our support, not abuse. In just the past two years, New York State saw a 974 percent increase in anti-Muslim harassment, discrimination, and hate crimes. It is intolerable that our officers force Muslim women to uncover against their will. It’s time for New York City to live up to our promise of being a sanctuary for all faiths – we’ve fallen short for too long.”
“No New Yorker should be mugged for a mug shot,” said ECBAWM partner O. Andrew F. Wilson. “Stripping New Yorkers of religious head coverings that do not obscure their faces serves no legitimate purpose.”
“There is a rapidly consolidating consensus among police departments across the United States that religious head coverings should not be removed for mug shots,” said ECBAWM associate Emma L. Freeman. “New York should be leading this trend, not following it.”
“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,” said plaintiff Jamilla Clark.
“I expected to be celebrating the holidays with my family, but instead I found myself being forced to undress in a room full of men, my beliefs being trampled,” said plaintiff Arwa Aziz.
“I fear this policy makes it harder for victims of domestic violence that we serve to report their abusers to the police,” said Turning Point for Women and Families’ Founder and Executive Director Robina Niaz.
The lawsuit names two individual plaintiffs, including Jamilla Clark, a survivor of domestic violence, who was allegedly arrested on charges fabricated by her abuser. Even though the charges against Clark were later dropped, during the course of her arrest she was forced to remove her hijab.
According to the complaint, an “NYPD officer took a photograph of Ms. Clark as she wept and begged to put her hijab back on. The officer ignored Ms. Clark, stored the photograph in an online database and on Ms. Clark’s paper file, and showed it to numerous male officers.” An officer also allegedly mocked Clark’s Muslim faith. A second named plaintiff, Arwa Aziz, is a mother of two who was detained on the eve of the Eid holiday (an Islamic religious holiday) just as she planned to prepare the family’s holiday meal. Instead of celebrating with loved ones, she was held on charges allegedly fabricated by an estranged relative. The charges against Aziz were later dismissed, but she too was forced to remove her hijab.
According to the complaint, “officers refused to allow Ms. Aziz to keep her hijab on while having her picture taken. . . They told her, falsely: ‘It’s the law.’ Frantic, weeping, and bareheaded in a hallway full of men who do not belong to her immediate family, Ms. Aziz felt broken.”
A third plaintiff is the organization Turning Points for Women and Families (TPNY), a non-profit that works on behalf of Muslim women who have survived domestic violence. TPNY has expressed concern about how the NYPD policy, and the threat of retaliatory arrest, could deter survivors from contacting police when help is most needed.
For more information, read coverage from the New York Times, Washington Post, Reuters, New York Daily News, the Guardian, Haaretz, Huffington Post, Law.com, Spectrum NY1, Courthouse News, Ebony, and am NY.