Fifteen people were arrested Tuesday at an amusement park in Westchester County over a fight that started after a group of Muslim women wearing hijabs werent allowed on a ride restricting any head gear.
The Muslim women were there as part of a daylong group event organized by the Muslim American Society to celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
At one point, a small group of women upset they couldn’t ride a rollercoaster went to park managers to ask for a refund. According to officials from the park, the patrons were offered refunds, but then some men and women started arguing with each other, the statement said, "to the point that park security had to intervene."
A woman at the scene told Patch.com at some point while she and the women were at the front of the park, someone grabbed her hijab. She said a park ranger wrestled another woman in the group to the ground. From there, she says law enforcement began to converge on the group, hitting them with batons and pinning some of the women to the ground.
Police called for backup and soon after there was a row of Westchester County police in riot gear standing by the park’s entrance. At least 60 police vehicles from eight surrounding departments, including cruisers and SUV’s, canine units and even a helicopter from eight municipalities surrounding the park.
Haifa Ali, a woman who was at the park during the incident, gave her account to Patch.com:
A Yonkers woman not with group would not give her name, but said she saw a female park ranger hit one of the women in the group repeatedly with a baton. The eyewitness said that the woman said, as she lay on the ground, something about her scarf being her religion and the park ranger yelled "I don’t give **** about your culture."
According to the witness, the Muslim woman was on the ground trying to hold her garment down when other members of the group came to her aid.
Ali [a woman at the scene] said when some of the men in the group saw that women were being hit, they came over and objected and they were also struck by the police officers and arrested, including Ali’s brother.
In the end fifteen people were arrested.
"For some reason, they think everyone in there is a terrorist," Akram Ghadami, a member of the group told Patch.com.
Others said the situation was blown out of proportion, and didn’t require such a large police presence.
"If that person had a problem, they should have just handcuffed the person and taken him away without making a big scene," said Ali Shibah, who was leaving the park with his wife and children.
Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager at the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, told the NY Times Wednesday that the authorities had overreacted.
"There seems to have been a disproportionate response in which police used excessive strength and force to subdue female protesters," he said. "That had a snowball effect on the antagonism and aggression that ensued."
Sharif Aly, vice president of Muslim American Society of New York, said it was investigating the episode to determine whether the group had in any way been singled out for being Muslim.