day 40 Muslims visiting an amusement park in Rye, New York got out of hand and violent because the park had safety rules, which the Muslim group had been told of beforehand, against wearing head covers such as the Muslim hijab on certain dangerous rides. A large number of police came to the park to restore order and about 15 Muslims were arrested, two for assault. A news article that many readers sent me yesterday was too sparse on the facts. A
Muslim Leaders Criticize Police Response to Scuffle
By DAN BILEFSKY
Muslim civil rights leaders on Wednesday accused the authorities of using excessive force after a Westchester County amusement park’s restrictions on head coverings provoked a scuffle a day earlier that led to the arrest of 15 people.
About 3,000 visitors from a Muslim tour group were at Playland park in Rye on Tuesday afternoon celebrating the end of Ramadan when a dispute erupted after women wearing traditional hijabs, or head scarves, were told they could not wear them on certain rides, for safety reasons.
Among the rides that headwear is prohibited on is the Dragon Coaster, on which riders plunge 128 feet before being hurled into the mouth of a smoke-emitting dragon. However, headwear, including the hijab, is allowed on the Double Shot, in which passengers, harnessed in cars, are rocketed up an 85-foot tower in less than two seconds before being shot back down at a nausea-inducing force of what the park says is “negative-one G.”
Park officials said Wednesday that the women were offered admission refunds, but that an altercation ensued when clutches of displeased visitors became agitated and began to argue among themselves and then with park officials, including two rangers who were hospitalized with injuries.
Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of the County Parks Department, said that two people were charged with assault and that 13 were charged with disorderly conduct. All had been released by Tuesday night.
Mr. Tartaglia said the Muslim American Society of New York, which organized the outing, had been warned of the headwear rule, which he said was a safety precaution to ensure that items like caps and head scarves did not get entangled in mechanical parts. On Playland’s Web site, he noted, rides that allow what the park calls headgear are clearly indicated with the letter H.
“This is all about safety, not about religion,” he said.
Mr. Tartaglia recalled an April 2010 episode in Sydney, Australia, in which a 26-year-old mother wearing a hijab was strangled after her head scarf became tangled in the wheel axle of a go-kart. In another incident, in Buena Park, Calif., in 2000, two dozen people were stranded on a roller coaster for about three hours after a rider’s jacket flew onto the track and became wedged under the train.
Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager at the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Wednesday that the authorities had overreacted. He said 60 patrol cars and 100 police officers from nine departments had responded to the disturbance, which he said had involved 40 people at most. He said video taken during the episode showed the police pushing at least one Muslim woman to the ground.
“There seems to have been a disproportionate response in which police used excessive strength and force to subdue female protesters,” Mr. McGoldrick said. “That had a snowball effect on the antagonism and aggression that ensued.”
Sharif Aly, vice president of the Muslim American Society of New York, said it was investigating the episode to determine whether the group had been singled out for being Muslim.
Mr. Tartaglia said that nearly 6,000 people were at the amusement park at the time, and that police intervention had been necessary to ensure public safety. “The incident was very quickly escalating,” he said, “and the police had no choice to interfere, or it could have turned into a riot.”
David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, whose members include Disney World and the company that operates the attractions at Coney Island, said it was not unusual for amusement parks to require guests to remove or secure loose articles, including head scarves or hats of any kind.
Kristin Siebeneicher, a spokeswoman for Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J., said that for safety reasons, no loose articles were allowed on rides. But hijabs, which are typically securely wrapped around the head, are allowed, she said.
Ms. Siebeneicher said that those wearing the hijab were advised to exercise caution on Six Flags’ most “extreme” ride, the Kingda Ka, a 45-story roller coaster that she said was the tallest in the world and the fastest in North America, going from zero to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds.
“Because that roller coaster is so extreme, we require that head scarves are tightly fastened,” she said. “But we are more than happy to have them along on the ride.”