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New York City to pay $17.5 million to settle suit over forcing women to remove hijabs for mug shots

Journalists and the hijab debate
Journalists and the hijab debate 04:54

New York City will pay $17.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit over forcing women to remove hijabs for mug shots, their lawyers and advocates said in a statement on Friday. 

More than 3,600 in the class action lawsuit will be eligible for payments of approximately $7,000 to $13,000 nearly four years after the police agreed to change their policy on religious head coverings. 

The settlement needs to be approved by the federal judge overseeing the case. 

"This is a milestone for New Yorkers' privacy and religious rights," said Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the advocacy organization, Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. "The NYPD should never have stripped these religious New Yorkers of their head coverings and dignity. This wasn't just an assault on their rights but on everything our city claims to believe in."

On March 16, 2018, Jamilla Clark and Arwa Aziz filed a complaint against the city alleging police made them remove their hijabs for mug shots. The two women became the named plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, which covers arrests that happened between March 16, 2014, and August 23, 2021, in the city. Clark had been arrested for filing a bogus protective order against her abusive husband, court documents said. She said the NYPD had threatened to prosecute her if she didn't remove her hijab. Court documents said an NYPD officer took a photo of Clark while she wept and begged to put the coverings back on. 

"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," Clark said in a statement. "I'm so proud today to have played a part in getting justice for thousands of New Yorkers. This settlement proves I was right all those years ago when I said it was wrong to remove my hijab for a mugshot. I hope no New Yorker ever has to experience what I went through."

"We send our appreciation to the Muslim women who bravely persisted with this litigation, prompting policy change that benefit many with similar religious garb requirement," CAIR-NY Executive Director Afaf Nasher said in a statement.

The NYPD changed its policy in 2020 allowing all arrestees to retain their religious head covering unless they fall within limited exceptions, court documents said. 

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