Malak Kazan (left), with Attorney Amir Makled, is filing a lawsuit against the city of Dearborn Heights for forcing her to remove her hijab. Photo credit: Samer Hijazi
DEARBORN HEIGHTS — A 27-year-old Muslim woman is filing a lawsuit against the Dearborn Heights Police department for forcing her to remove her hijab when she was arrested and booked for a traffic misdemeanor offense last July 9.
Malak Kazan said she was humiliated by the department's policy, which required her to remove her scarf when she was detained for driving on a suspended license. As part of the booking process, Kazan was asked to remove her hijab for her mug shot.
Kazan expressed concern about the policy to the policemen on duty, claiming it was a violation of her religion. She allegedly asked for a female police officer, but was told they couldn't provide her with one.
After growing frustration, Kazan was able to speak to a supervisor, who told her that removing headwear was part of the department's policy and that she needed to comply or she would be further detained.
Local Attorney Amir Makled from the Law Office of Cyril C. Hall filed the case at the U.S. District Court this week. He is demanding the department change its policy and is also seeking both compensatory and punitive damages for his client.
"To be exposed in front of men who aren't part of her immediate family is a serious breach of faith and practice," Makled said. "She has a sincere belief in her religion and to be demanded to remove her scarf is a clear violation. She felt extremely humiliated."
After Kazan was forced to remove her hijab for her mug shot, she was allegedly told she couldn't put it back on while she remained in custody.
This incident marks the latest in several discriminatory claims launched against the city of Dearborn Heights and its police department.
In late 2014, the American Arab Civil Rights League (ACRL) also filed a suit against the city claiming that its police officers lacked diversity training and treated Muslim Americans like "second class citizens."
Makled called on Dearborn Heights Police Chief Lee Gavin to provide the police force with extensive diversity training in order to better reflect the city's multi-cultural residents.
"It's clear to me that the city needs further diversity training and more diversity is needed in the police force," Makled said. "Their policies need to be reviewed and need to reflect and serve the constituents in the city."
The officers who took Kazan into custody and were involved in her booking process have yet to be identified. The lawsuit is listing the city, its police department, the officers who booked Kazan and Chief Gavin as the defendants in the case.
Kazan told The Arab American News that she wants to set a precedent with her incident so that other Muslim women aren't placed in similar circumstances with local authorities.
"I honestly don't want other women to be put in my position, where they are forced to take off their scarf in front of men they don't know," Kazan said. "I was so upset. It was such an uncomfortable feeling. I've worn my scarf for 12 years and my religion says that I can't take it off. It's not just a religious issue; this is a part of me. It's my culture, my life and my identity."
Makled said he commends Kazan for having the courage to come forward.
"It's absolutely brave for her to come forward and to discuss this openly in public," he said. "It's a good showing of her character. She wants to be the trailblazer for this new policy change that we are trying to implement."
Makled said he believes there are other women in the city who could've possibly encountered similar experiences with the department, but may have been too embarrassed to come forward. He is hoping the case will prompt policy changes at the local municipalities.
"We hope this case can be a learning point for other departments," Makled added. "I do believe this has happened to other residents within the city of Dearborn Heights and if there are women that want to come forward, please contact me so we can work together collectively to change this policy."
Makled can be contacted at 313.582.7930. or reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAIR-MI attempts to implement hijab policy
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan (CAIR-MI) told The Arab American News that the civil rights organization has successfully collaborated with the Canton and Hamtramck Police Departments to accommodate hijab attire during the booking process. However, their attempts were unsuccessful in both Dearborn and Dearborn Heights.
According to Walid, CAIR-MI met with Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko and Chief Gavin to discuss religious friendly accommodations almost two years ago. They also met with senior officers in Dearborn to discuss similar policies, but have yet to see the departments take any active measures.
"We've had Canton and Hamtramck Police Departments implement these policies and we fail to understand why Dearborn and Dearborn Heights don't implement the same policies when they share similar demographics," Walid said.
Walid noted that the majority of the local civil rights organizations have received similar complaints in the past from Muslim women in Dearborn who were also subjected to such treatment. Still, it's not common for a woman in a headscarf to be arrested, which is one of the reasons why the issue remains in limbo.
"Each municipality has to implement policies for their department and eventually what's going to happen if they don't implement these policies is they will be challenged in court," Walid added. "These cases can go all the way up to the state supreme court and the courts can then decide if it's something that can be mandatory for police departments throughout the state."
Walid said civil rights organizations may occasionally be subjected to criticism from community members for defending Muslim women who are “criminals” or giving the religion a bad name. Walid said residents need to take into account that every person who is arrested is innocent until proven guilty.
"We aren't in a country where people get arrested and then law enforcement has the authority to abuse them in custody," he said. "That's my response to people in the community who would say such things; Just because you are arrested, that doesn't mean you are guilty. Even if the person was a criminal, they still have certain rights afforded to them."