12 men and three women were arrested at Rye Playland in Rye, New York on Tuesday, August 30 after a dispute over Muslim head coverings turned violent. Two men were charged with felony assault and two police rangers were injured during the fight after Muslim visitors became angry that the park was enforcing its ban on headgear by prohibiting the women from wearing their traditional head coverings on some rides.
The incident started at around 2:00 pm when the theme park was crowded with around 6,000 visitors. Roughly 3,000 were in a Muslim tour group celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan- one of Islam's major holidays. The dispute began after the women were told they could not wear the traditional Muslim head coverings, known as hijabs, on certain rides because of safety issues associated with loose clothing.
Officials were in the process of refunding the group's tickets when male and female visitors started to argue amongst themselves, Westchester County officials said.
A park cashier told the Journal News that a woman wearing a hijab either pushed or hit a ride operator who forbade her from going on the ride. She said a police officer tried to restrain the woman and the woman's husband took offense, at which point a multiple-person fight broke out.
The melee quickly escalated on both sides, ultimately involving around 30 to 40 people and 100 police officers from nine different agencies in the area. 13 people were arrested for disorderly conduct, but all those charged were released by Tuesday night. The park entrance was temporarily closed for 2 hours following the fight.
Many Muslims see the incident as the latest in a continuing thread of prejudice and unfair treatment solely because of their religion.
Those arrested said they were treated like animals, beaten with police sticks, thrown to the ground and arrested. However John Hodges, chief inspector of Westchester County Public Safety, insisted that police did not use excessive force.
The Muslim American Society of New York had been painstakingly advised of the rule many times before its tour took place, parks official Peter Tartaglia said. The policy was instated after incidents in 2004 and 2007 that resulted in the deaths of two children. Officials insisted that the policy was enforced for their safety because loose clothing could catch in gears and choke riders or fly off and land on the ride's tracks.
Rye Playland may have a precedent to follow concerning loose clothing safety.
In 2010 a Muslim women strangled herself to death after her burkha became ensnared in a go-kart in Port Stephens, Australia. The loose fabric became caught in the wheels of the go-kart, killing her instantly.
Our headgear policy is designed to protect the safety of patrons and safety is our first concern...This policy was repeatedly articulated to the tour operator, but unfortunately the message did not reach some of the members of his group, said the Park's deputy commissioner.
The Official Park Policy:
Loose articles and personal possessions such as electronic devices, keys, hats, glasses, backpacks, purses and stuffed animals should be left at home, kept in a locker or left with a non-rider while at the Park or on rides... Hats must be secured, and jackets/sweaters must be worn properly and not around the waist while on a ride. Some rides do not allow backpacks, purses or head gear of any kind.
Rye Playland is America's only government-owned amusement park.
A spokesman for the Muslim American Society of New York said it plans to investigate what happened.
This is not the first time an amusement park has run into trouble over head scarf discrepancies. A former employee of Disneyland, Imane Boudal is currently suing the California park for workplace discrimination for telling her she could not serve customers if she chose to wear a headscarf.
Boudal was told to remove her hijab because it did not comply with the Disney Look. If she refused to remover her hear covering, she could either work a back-of-the-house position, unseen by customers, or go home.
Boudlal refused and is currently bringing her case before the US Equal Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that handles claims of workplace discrimination.
Watch a video of the fight at Rye Playland below: