"At the scene, the officer's responsibility is to ensure there are no weapons or contraband It's for the safety of the officer." But that doesn't matter. When Islamic law and American law and practice conflict, it is always the latter that must give way, safety considerations be damned.
"Muslim asks HPD to revise frisking rules on headscarfs," by Safiya Ravat for the Houston Chronicle, August 19 (thanks to Ab):
A Muslim protester is calling for revision of the frisking process at the Houston Police Department after she said she was stripped of her religious headscarf during a recent arrest this month while rallying for janitor wages.
The incident highlights the varying policies local police agencies have regulating when religious head coverings are allowed during the arresting and booking process. It also shows the fine line law enforcement must straddle when trying to respect one's faith while ensuring that people who are arrested do no harm to themselves or others.
Ilana Alazzeh, 23, was arrested by HPD Aug. 1 while participating in a roadblock protest at a busy intersection in the Galleria area. She and two dozen other protesters sat in the middle of the intersection with arms interlocked.
Alazzeh, who has Israeli, Palestinian and Pakistani roots, was the only protester wearing a hijab - the headscarf - worn by female adherents of the Islamic faith while in the presence of men.
After their arrest for obstruction of traffic, HPD officers took the handcuffed protesters to the Police Department's gymnasium to ID and process them before incarceration.
"Initially they were very cordial," said Alazzeh, a communications specialist from Washington, D.C., who works for the Service Employees International Union.
She was called up to a table of officers for basic identification questions. One officer chatted with her about Ramadan, she said, and another asked about her headscarf.
A female officer at the table noted down in her file, "headscarf religious reasons," Alazzeh said. "She told me, 'I put that in there so you won't be bothered because of it.' "
Minutes later, Alazzeh was approached by a different female officer who began the frisking process and started unwrapping her headscarf in plain view of male officers and protesters.
"Whoa, whoa! This is my religious headscarf," she told the officer as she tried to back away. "Can't you just feel through it?" she asked.
"The officer said, 'No, if you want your religious headscarf, you shouldn't protest,' " Alazzeh said.
She said she pleaded with the officer, asking if a nun would be treated the same way, to which Alazzeh said the officer replied, "This is just procedure … I don't know what you have in there. You might be hiding a gun."
Not seen as stripping
HPD Lt. Patrick Dougherty said frisking is an integral part of the arresting process.
"At the scene, the officer's responsibility is to ensure there are no weapons or contraband," Dougherty said. "It's for the safety of the officer."
A general pat-down is conducted on the exterior of clothing, he said, but if an officer deems it necessary to remove an outer garment to ensure safety, that can be done.
"We don't consider removing an outer garment such as a coat or scarf to be stripping somebody," he said. "If we were stripping, it would have to be done in private by the same gender."
That's where the difference lies. Alazzeh considered the headscarf part of her necessary clothing.
"In many different religions and cultures, taking off the headscarf is equivalent to taking off my shirt in public," she explained.
Muslims are not the only ones who wear religious head coverings; nuns can be seen wearing hair veils, and male Sikhs often wear turbans.
"We do work with people on their unique religious issues," said Dougherty.
If a request was made, he said, a supervisor could have asked the officer to handle the situation differently, perhaps removing the headscarf in private to check for a weapon. "But there's no documentation that there was a request," he said.
Both the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Sugar Land Police Department said removal of any type of religious head covering is not necessary during arrest.
"We require an exterior pat-down," said Sugar Land police spokesman Doug Adolf, "but that doesn't require removal of their clothing."...
While things are less rigid during arrest, incarceration is a much stricter matter, said Harris County Sheriff's Deputy Thomas Gilliland.
During incarceration, most jails - including HPD's and the Harris County jail - strictly prohibit items of clothing like scarves, turbans, habits and even shoelaces, to keep inmates from using them to commit suicide or hide contraband....
After her scarf was removed in the gym, Alazzeh said, it was tossed back on her head, then taken away again during incarceration. She used an extra shirt to cover her hair during her 12 hours in jail until her employer posted bail for her and other union protesters.
She is filing an internal affairs complaint against HPD.
"All of these horrible things that happen to people, are perpetuated by people who say they are just following orders," said Alazzeh. "When you're doing your job, there's a way to do things that's not infringing on people's rights and liberties and dignity."