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Muslim Melee Leads to 15 Arrests at Playland

What was meant to be a celebration quickly transformed into a fracas, as 15 Muslim park-goers were arrested August 29 at Playland after tempers flared when several women were denied access to rides because they would not remove their hijabs.

 

By Jim Byrne

 

What was meant to be a celebration quickly transformed into a fracas, as 15 Muslim park-goers were arrested August 29 at Playland after tempers flared when several women were denied access to rides because they would not remove their hijabs.

 

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Over 3,000 Muslims were on hand to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, a holiday marking Ramadan’s completion. The event was organized by The Muslim American Society of New York, and attracted families from the New York area. But, when one woman was told her hijab was included in Playland’s “headgear ban” policy, the day quickly unraveled.


Word spread of the ban and roughly 35 agitated visitors gathered at the main entrance seeking refunds, which they were reportedly offered.
“It was at that point that several male and female patrons started arguing with one another to the point where park security had to intervene,” explained County Executive Rob Astorino. “In the course of restoring calm, two park rangers suffered injuries and had to be taken to a nearby hospital.”

 

Backup was called in, and 60-plus police vehicles from nine agencies – including Rye, Port Chester, New York State, and Westchester County – descended on Playland between 3 and 4:30. The massive response included K-9 units and placed riot gear-equipped officers around the traffic circle to quell what was being described as a “riot”.

 

Of the 15 patrons arrested, two were charged with felony assault, the remaining with mostly misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges. All were released later that evening. Following the arrests, park officials met with the tour operator to ensure all members of the group understood the headgear policy. On September 6, four of those charged with disorderly conduct pled not guilty in Rye City Court. The remaining 11 have court dates later this month.

 

The Playland website states that “some rides do not allow backpacks, purses or head gear of any kind”, and it’s no surprise the rules are enforced with two visitors and a worker having died on separate rides in the last decade.

 

“The tour operator was notified well in advance of today’s event — numerous times, in writing and orally — of the County’s policy on headgear for certain rides at the amusement park,” said Mr. Astorino.

 

Many of the visitors claimed police and rangers went over the line.

 

“Who are the terrorists, us or them?” said one young female who declined to reveal her name. “They were ready to hurt us.”

 

“We didn’t come to create a problem, we came to celebrate,” said another. “They were discriminating against us and tried to take our rights away.”

 

Traffic was backed up at the intersection leading to Playland, which was closed off, and many members of the group spilled out into surrounding neighborhoods in the wake of the disturbance. A large group, however, remained near the gate by the fountain where they prayed together and waited for word on family members who were taken to precincts in Ossining and Hawthorne.

 

Peter Tartaglia, Deputy Parks Commissioner, said, “This misunderstanding was very unfortunate. 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.”

 

Photos by Jim Byrne and Melanie Cane

 


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