Activist Alaa Massri was unlawfully arrested during a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Miami, Florida on the 10th of June, 2020. She noticed a protester hurt by a police vehicle and rushed to help the victim, but was stopped by a swarm of cops. After asking the police officers (Officer Corral, #41643) not to touch her in a polite and respectful manner, Ms. Massri attempted to walk away. Instead, she was arrested. She was later charged with battery, resisting an officer with “violence,” and “disorderly conduct.” Witnesses say she was not displaying any harmful behavior, and was simply trying to help an injured individual.
Massri covers her hair with a headscarf (hijab). She repeatedly made officers aware of this fact, yet they removed her hijab in front of male police officers and took her mugshot without her hijab. That photo was then broadcasted to national television and distributed to mulitple news outlets. She was also not allowed to have her hijab on for the remainder of the seven hours she was detained at the jail.
Alaa Massri’s constitutional rights were openly violated. Her First Amendment right to peacefully protest was infringed upon when she was arrested without probable grounds for her imprisonment. Along with the First Amendment guaranteeing religious freedom, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in 2000, which included protecting the religious rights of incarcerated people.
The most appalling part of this unlawful arrest is the violation of Massri’s religious rights. As a Muslim, Alaa Massri believes in covering her hair with a traditional headscarf (hijab). They not only assaulted her and charged her with false crimes to detain her, but they consciously took away her rights to be a woman practicing Islam and cirulated an image of her without her hijab on all over the Internet, for the world to see. The police claim to have arrested only violent protesters, and those who vandalized statues, but she did neither. There really is no justification for taking off a person’s religious headgear.
American media speaks boldly about women’s rights and feminism; is what the cops did to Alaa Massri really an act of supporting women, if ultimately you are removing their freedom of choice to dress how they want?
It is evident that Massri’s hijab did not restrict her from protesting. She courageously stood in solidarity with the Black community while wearing her headscarf. Alaa chooses to wear the headscarf, and she did not consent for it to be removed for the photograph, nor for this photo to be broadcast to the world. The Miami police officers who did this heinous act targeted Massri because of the institutionalized Islamophobia that exists within the United States. Muslim women have increasingly become targets of hate and discrimination, particularly those who are easily identifiable because of their hijab. American media speaks boldly about women’s rights and feminism; is what the cops did to Alaa Massri really an act of supporting women, if ultimately you are removing their freedom of choice to dress how they want?
The cops who did this to Massri must be held accountable and investigated publicly. They forcibly removed the religious head covering that she wears every day, resulting in a direct violation of her constitutional right to freedom of religion. Her head covering was removed by Miami police officers to humiliate Massri and publicly shame her. This is not only a hate crime, but physical assault. When Alaa Massri was forced to take a mugshot without her hijab, that was the moment she was stripped of her dignity and personal integrity. Massri was dehumanized by the very same police officers who should be protecting her. They touched her without her consent, took something away from her, and exposed a body part of hers that she did not want others to see. This is an act of physical assault. Tell Miami police — and police officers across America — to keep their #HandsOffOurHijabs.
Maliya Naz is a Kashmiri/Pakistani American poet and human rights advocate. When she is not volunteering or translating Urdu ghazals, you can find her giving talks about all things Islam and spirituality.