Police attacked Muslims at amusement park in Westchester, New York
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'Muslims, police scuffle at Rye Playland over amusement park's head scarf ban; 15 arrests made'
by Corrinne Lestch and Bill Hutchinson, New York Daily News
Rye Playland was shut down Tuesday after cops scuffled with Muslims upset that women wearing head scarves were barred from the rides, witnesses said.
Fifteen people, including three women, were charged with disorderly conduct and assault in the chaos, authorities said.
The Westchester County park was packed with Muslims celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr - the holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
One woman, Entisai Ali, began arguing with cops over the amusement park's head scarf, or hijab, rule, said Dena Meawad, 18, of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
The ban, which is not Muslim specific, was imposed about 3 years ago mostly to prevent hats from falling onto the tracks of roller coasters and other rides, park officials said.
"The cops started getting loud with her and she started getting loud, too. They pushed her on the ground and arrested her," Meawad said.
Her cousin, Kareem Meawad, 17, went to try to protect the woman and was beaten by cops and also arrested, she added. Her brother, Issam Meawad, 20, was pushed to the ground and taken into custody when he tried to help his cousin, she said.
"She just wanted to get on a ride. That was it," Dena Meawad said of the initial confrontation. "It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim."
John Hodges, chief inspector of Westchester County Public Safety, insisted that police did not use excessive force.
He said up to 100 cops from surrounding departments converged on the park.
Two park rangers were injured in the melee, prompting felony assault charges against two people arrested, officials said.
The ugly incident happened just after 1 p.m. The event was organized by the Muslim American Society of New York, and attracted 3,000 Muslims from Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Westchester County.
Ali's sister, Ayman Alrabah, 24, of Brooklyn said her husband, brother and father were all tackled by cops and put into handcuffs when they tried to help her sister.
Alrabah said she was unaware of the head-scarf rule until she and her sister tried to get on the park's Dragon Coasters.
"We requested a refund and all of a sudden an argument became a riot," Alrabah said. "Cops came. They were hitting my brother, my dad. My husband was on the floor and they were handcuffing him.
She said her 4-year-old son was "traumatized" by seeing his father arrested.
"They treated us like animals, like we were nothing," Alrabah said. "They came with their dogs and sticks. We came to have fun."
'It's clear, this all happened because we're Muslim,' says Dena Meawad.
The park was closed for about two hours because of the fracas. It reopened at about 6 p.m.
Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of Westchester County Parks, said the Muslim American Society of New York was warned in advance of the rule barring head scarves on rides for safety reasons.
"Part of our rules and regulations, which we painstakingly told them over and over again, is that certain rides you cannot wear any sort of headgear," Tartaglia said. "It's a safety issue for us on rides, it could become a projectile."
Many Muslims were given refunds as they left the park disappointed.
"In this heightened state of Islamaphobia, a woman wearing a hajib is an easy target these days," said Zead Ramadan, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations - New York. "Unfortunately, this turned ugly due to a lot of miscommunication."
'Teen talks of role in Playland melee over head scarves'
Written by Ned P. Rauch and Rebecca Baker, The [Westchester] Journal News
[Longer video interview with Ola Salem at above website]
RYE, N.Y. Ola Salem says it was her refusal to take off her head scarf to go on a ride that sparked Tuesday's fracas at Playland Amusement Park.
"I started the whole thing," the 17-year-old Brooklyn resident said Wednesday.
Salem and her family were among 3,000 Muslims who were participating in a promotional day at Playland to celebrate the end of Ramadan when a melee broke out among 30 to 40 people upset at enforcement of a longstanding rule.
Salem's father and 14 other people were arrested after tempers flared when Salem was told by a ride attendant she would have to remove her "headgear" her hijab if she wanted to get on a fast-moving ride.
"This has nothing to do with headgear," Salem recalled saying to the ride attendant. "This is my religion."
Salem took her complaint to a manager, who supported the attendant's position, telling her that the scarf could get caught in a wheel.
"Muslims wouldn't allow it to get caught," Salem said Wednesday. "It's worn low and tight."
Salem began telling other Muslim women what had happened, and, as word spread, anger built. Attendees said they had not known beforehand about the park's rules ultimately leading to the melee, a massive police response and the arrests of 15 park-goers, two were charged with felony assault and most others with disorderly conduct.
Email correspondence shows Playland officials were clear about the ban on hijabs and other "headgear" to leaders of the Muslim American Society of New York, which organized the outing.
The string of emails obtained by The Journal News between Playland event coordinator Adam Harvey and MAS New York president Hatem Gawaly included questions about the head scarves women wear.
"I need to get more details please about whether a burka/hijab constitutes as a head gear," Gawaly wrote to Harvey on July 19. "There will be a lot of commotion about this."
Harvey responded on July 23: "The head gear RULES are there for safety and they will not change them even for a big group. I am sorry about this."
Wed, Aug. 31 2011
'Muslim Veil Controversy: Islamic Women Rejected From NY Theme Park Ride'
By Fionna Agomuoh
A brawl between police and a group of Muslims at a theme park has left two park rangers injured and 15 people arrested, including three women.
Approximately 3,000 members of the Muslim American Society were visiting New York's Rye Playland theme park on Tuesday for the end of Ramadan.
A number of women within the group were denied entry to certain rides in the park unless they removed their hijab headscarves. The grounds given were for security reasons.
After several men and women in the group became upset and began to argue among themselves, police were called and a scuffle between police and the guests ensued.
One woman, Entisai Ali was pushed to the ground and arrested after arguing with police.
The altercation escalated as the woman's brother and male cousin attempted to intervene. The men were also beaten and arrested, a friend has claimed.
Ayman Alrabah told the Daily News that her male family members were also arrested for attempting to diffuse the situation, adding that witnessing his father getting arrested has traumatized her four-year-old son.
"We requested a refund and all of a sudden an argument became a riot," Alrabah said. "Cops came. They were hitting my brother, my dad. My husband was on the floor and they were handcuffing him."
According to Rye Playland policy, guests are not permitted to wear headgear on certain rides because of various safety risks.
"If somebody wears some kind of a scarf, it could be a strangling situation. On a track of a roller coaster, it could cause that ride to stop and cause injury," said a Rye Playland official.
Rye Playland insists that the Muslim American Society was properly briefed on the regulations of the park and were offered refunds.
Guests however say they were treated unfairly because they are Muslim.
"They said no because my of my 'headgear'," Ola Salem told the New York Times. "I said: `It's not my headgear, it's my religion'."
The two, first responding park rangers were injured in the scuffle and hospitalized. Afterwards, back up was called and in what some are saying was an over-reaction, approximately 60 patrol cars and 100 police arrived on the scene.
The park entrance was closed for two hours.
'Muslim Leaders Criticize Police Response to Scuffle'
By Dan Bilefsky. New York Times, August 31, 2011
Muslim civil rights leaders on Wednesday accused the authorities of using excessive force after a Westchester County amusement park's restrictions on head coverings provoked a scuffle a day earlier that led to the arrest of 15 people.
About 3,000 visitors from a Muslim tour group were at Playland park in Rye on Tuesday afternoon celebrating the end of Ramadan when a dispute erupted after women wearing traditional hijabs, or head scarves, were told they could not wear them on certain rides, for safety reasons.
Among the rides that headwear is prohibited on is the Dragon Coaster, on which riders plunge 128 feet before being hurled into the mouth of a smoke-emitting dragon. However, headwear, including the hijab, is allowed on the Double Shot, in which passengers, harnessed in cars, are rocketed up an 85-foot tower in less than two seconds before being shot back down at a nausea-inducing force of what the park says is "negative-one G."
Park officials said Wednesday that the women were offered admission refunds, but that an altercation ensued when clutches of displeased visitors became agitated and began to argue among themselves and then with park officials, including two rangers who were hospitalized with injuries.
Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of the County Parks Department, said that two people were charged with assault and that 13 were charged with disorderly conduct. All had been released by Tuesday night.
Mr. Tartaglia said the Muslim American Society of New York, which organized the outing, had been warned of the headwear rule, which he said was a safety precaution to ensure that items like caps and head scarves did not get entangled in mechanical parts. On Playland's Web site, he noted, rides that allow what the park calls headgear are clearly indicated with the letter H.
"This is all about safety, not about religion," he said.
Mr. Tartaglia recalled an April 2010 episode in Sydney, Australia, in which a 26-year-old mother wearing a hijab was strangled after her head scarf became tangled in the wheel axle of a go-kart. In another incident, in Buena Park, Calif., in 2000, two dozen people were stranded on a roller coaster for about three hours after a rider's jacket flew onto the track and became wedged under the train.
Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager at the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Wednesday that the authorities had overreacted. He said 60 patrol cars and 100 police officers from nine departments had responded to the disturbance, which he said had involved 40 people at most. He said video taken during the episode showed the police pushing at least one Muslim woman to the ground.
"There seems to have been a disproportionate response in which police used excessive strength and force to subdue female protesters," Mr. McGoldrick said. "That had a snowball effect on the antagonism and aggression that ensued."
Sharif Aly, vice president of the Muslim American Society of New York, said it was investigating the episode to determine whether the group had been singled out for being Muslim.
Mr. Tartaglia said that nearly 6,000 people were at the amusement park at the time, and that police intervention had been necessary to ensure public safety. "The incident was very quickly escalating," he said, "and the police had no choice to interfere, or it could have turned into a riot."
David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, whose members include Disney World and the company that operates the attractions at Coney Island, said it was not unusual for amusement parks to require guests to remove or secure loose articles, including head scarves or hats of any kind.
Kristin Siebeneicher, a spokeswoman for Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., said that for safety reasons, no loose articles were allowed on rides. But hijabs, which are typically securely wrapped around the head, are allowed, she said.
Ms. Siebeneicher said that those wearing the hijab were advised to exercise caution on Six Flags' most "extreme" ride, the Kingda Ka, a 45-story roller coaster that she said was the tallest in the world and the fastest in North America, going from zero to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds.
"Because that roller coaster is so extreme, we require that head scarves are tightly fastened," she said. "But we are more than happy to have them along on the ride."
'HIJAB WELL DONE. Many parks allow Muslim scarves, unlike Rye
By Kate Sheehy, Jennifer Bain and Colin Mixson, New York Post
Six Flags Great Adventure has the biggest, fastest roller coasters in the world, and even that park doesn't have the religious head-scarf ban that sparked a massive brawl at Rye Playland between Muslim guests and local cops.
"We don't allow hats like baseball caps, but we do allow headdresses," said Kristen Siebeneicher, spokeswoman for the massive amusement park in Jackson, NJ.
They even allow them on the monster ride Kingda Ka -- which is 456 feet high and goes 128 mph -- but "we tell our guests . . . that they must have their headdresses very tightly fastened," Siebeneicher said.
Fifteen people were busted during a wild fistfight at Rye Playland in Westchester County on Tuesday afternoon after some hijab-wearing women -- part of a group of 3,000 Muslim parkgoers, mainly from Brooklyn -- were denied access to more than half the adult rides.
County Parks Deputy Commissioner Peter Tartaglia, whose agency runs the park, said the brawl began when frustrated Muslim families lining up for refunds got into a shoving match with each other.
A security guard trying to break things up touched one of the garbed women and her husband got furious.
"All of a sudden, everyone started running to the entrance . . . I just saw flailing arms and punching," said one parkgoer from Teaneck, NJ.
The woman said her three sons wear yarmulkes and that they had been asked to take them off for certain rides as well.
"What's the issue?" she shrugged. "They did not ask in a negative or offensive way."
Tartaglia insisted that the head-scarf ban was "a black-and-white safety issue."
"We look at every individual ride," he said.
"It's just common sense," he said, noting that some of the rides go up to 40 mph.
A rep for Coney Island's amusement rides said he wasn't clear on his park's policy, although a hijab-wearing woman was spotted riding a roller coaster there yesterday. Water parks such as Splish Splash in Long Island don't ban the headgear, a representative said.
New York personal-injury lawyer Jim Reed said Playland is within its rights to ban the scarves as long as "it would promote greater safety and . . . as long as consistency is applied" so as not to discriminate.
Ali Shibah of Yonkers, who was part of the Muslim group, said, "I understand the point that this could be a safety issue."
"But they have to learn how to deal with certain groups," he said of the park. "You can't tell a woman who's been wearing this their whole life to take it off suddenly. This is a sensitivity issue.
"What would they say if the Virgin Mary wanted to go a ride -- to take off her hijab?"
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