Alaa Massri, an 18-year-old who was arrested at a peaceful demonstration against systemic racism in downtown Miami, has said her rights were breached when she was arrested earlier in June.
A petition condemning police treatment of Ms Massri, which has garnered over 110,000 signatures, claims she suffered an “appalling violation” of her religious rights and was prohibited from wearing her hijab for seven hours at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Centre.
Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Centre is a massive nine-story high rise built in 1989 which can hold up to 1,300 prisoners that featured on Louis Theroux’ 2011 show Miami Mega Jail.
“As a Muslim, Ms Massri is required to cover her hair with a hijab,” states the petition. “She repeatedly made officers aware of this fact, yet they still removed her hijab in front of male police officers – completely disrespecting her way of life. They also took her mugshot with her hijab off and distributed it to news outlets, further spreading the lack of compassion they had for her.”
The petition explains Ms Massri is a medic and had been trying to help someone who she feared was injured by a police vehicle when six to eight officers in riot gear blocked her from helping.
“After repeatedly asking the police officers not to touch her, in a polite yet concerned manner, Ms Massri attempted to walk away,” says the petition. “Instead, she was surrounded and arrested. Alaa was then zip-tied and later charged with battery, resisting an officer with violence, and disorderly conduct. Witnesses observed that she was not acting in a disorderly fashion and was simply coming to the aid of an injured individual.”
The petition calls for the department to remove her mugshot picture from online databases as well as urging police not to continue with charges against Ms Massri.
A police report states Ms Massri, who was one of seven people arrested at the protest on 10 June, was arrested on suspicion of battery against a police officer, resisting an officer with violence, and disorderly conduct.
While a spokesperson for Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation Department said they have policies to help those who cover their heads for religious reasons.
“Arrestees, who claim or appear to be of a particular faith, are allowed to keep their head-covering once it has been searched for contraband and the booking photograph has been taken,” Juan Diasgranados, the prison's public affairs manager, said.
Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act back in 2000 which states those imprisoned must be free to carry out their religious customs.