ATLANTA: Members of the Muslim-American community in the US state of Virginia criticized the Fairfax City Police Department for mishandling an attack on a 16-year-old female Muslim high school student and refusing to characterize the case as a hate crime.
The student was reportedly subjected to Islamophobic and racist slurs before she was physically assaulted and had her hijab pulled off by a fellow student at Fairfax High School in Fairfax City, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
According to local news reports, the police said their investigation has determined that there were no racist or Islamophobic slurs made against the victim and that her hijab was not forcibly removed by the male student during the attack.
But according to numerous witnesses and the victim’s legal representative, she was subjected to Islamophobic slurs and was attacked by another student.
Several members of the Muslim-American community in the area who were familiar with the case told Arab News that they fear the police were engaged in a cover up because they mischaracterized the victim’s words in a way to make it appear as a fight between two students. They also said the police did not interview any witnesses before making their determination.
The largest Arab-American civil rights organization, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, which has taken on the case to represent the victim, has rejected the police findings and insisted that the incident constitutes a “hate crime” against the Muslim student.
The legal and policy director of ADC Abed Ayoub told Arab News that he strongly disagrees with the police department’s decision on the incident.
He said he had several phone calls with police officials and met with the family of the victim as part of legal assistance that the ADC is providing for her and her family.
Ayoub said from a legal perspective, the targeting of the victim because of her hijab is enough to be considered a hate crime, and comments are not needed to elevate this incident to the level of a hate crime.
The victim told local news outlets that she was physically assaulted, pushed to the ground, and had her hijab forcibly pulled off of her by a male student at the school.
She said two of her classmates were making Islamophobic and racist comments against her when one of them grabbed her hijab and continued to beat her up despite her efforts to defend herself.
She added that one of the students pushed and shoved her on desks and chairs, causing injuries to her chest and shoulder and trouble breathing. She was later taken to a hospital for examination.
The student said the school was trying to cover up the incident by characterizing it as a fight and by describing her chest pain as “a panic attack.”
She added that the school even punished her by forcing her to stay in the same room as her attacker.
Abrar Omeish, a Muslim-American member of the Fairfax County School Board, told Arab News that the incident is “unfortunately far too common and widespread in our schools.”
She said: “I’m eager to see how this painful moment turns into system-wide action that moves forward.”
Ayoub said: “Many witnesses have attested that the victim’s hijab was forcibly removed during the altercation. Witnesses also corroborated the victim’s statement that students in the classroom engaged in racist and Islamophobic drawings, and that the perpetrator made racist comments prior to the attack. This was shared multiple times with the law enforcement agencies.”
Arab News called the school, and the person who answered the phone confirmed that the incident took place but declined to comment further.
The Muslim Student Association issued a statement denouncing the attack on the Muslim student, saying the police have “mischaracterized” the victim’s statement by spreading a “false narrative.”
The MSA has demanded that mandatory training be provided to teachers and administrators on supporting Muslim students, “dispelling underlying Islamophobic tropes.”
The incident prompted hundreds of students from the school to walk out in protest in support of the Muslim student, chanting “justice now” and “end the hate.”
The next day, hundreds of students from five other high schools in the area also walked out of their schools in solidarity with the victim.
A Change.org petition in support of the victim and to make the school accountable has gathered over 28,000 signatures so far.
Calls and messages were left to the city’s police department seeking comment on the incident, but were not returned by the time of publication of this article.