An African American Muslim woman from Long Beach has just been awarded damages after a city police officer forced her to spend the night in jail without her head scarf.
Kirsty Powell had been arrested during a May 2015 traffic stop over outstanding warrants regarding resisting arrest, petty theft, and vehicle theft. But when the officer in charge told her she had to remove her hijab, she requested that a female officer search her instead.
After having her requests denied, the officers simply told her that they were “allowed to touch a woman,” adding that wearing a hijab was not allowed while she was in custody.
An officer then forcibly removed her scarf as other male officers watched. She was also exposed before other inmates and then forced to spend the night that way.
Because wearing a hijab is part of her religious beliefs, Powell righteously felt her rights were being denied, prompting her to feel deeply traumatized.
After the federal civil rights complaint was filed, Powell spoke before the Los Angeles federal court, saying she “would never want anyone to go through what I felt from this experience.”
“I want my Muslim sisters to always feel comfortable and safe wearing a hijab and to stand up for what's right,” she added.
The court awarded her $85,000 in damages, and on Tuesday, the Long Beach Council voted to approve the settlement.
After the incident, the Long Beach police department changed its policy to ensure that individuals with religious head coverings are accommodated while in custody, joining San Bernardino and Orange counties.
To civil rights attorney Marwa Rifahie, who works with the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Powell's actions show her strength of character and her willingness to stand up to injustice.
“We commend Kirsty Powell for choosing to defend her right to religious freedom and taking action,” she said.
Because Powell took the initiative to file a complaint after being mistreated and having her rights ignored, she could serve as an example to others who are too afraid to speak out against law enforcement. Let's only hope this example sparks change across the country so others don't have to experience the same humiliation Powell went through.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Flickr user hernanpba