Muslim Woman in Hijab Kicked and Slapped in Hate Crime
NIAGARA FALLS — The arrest of a Niagara Falls woman accused of using ethnic slurs and assaulting a woman of Pakistani origin is “a troubling symptom” of increased anti-Muslim sentiment across the country, the spokesman of a national civil rights group said Friday.
“How do you prevent something like this if [you’re a] law enforcement officer?” asked Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C.
“It’s almost impossible,” Hooper said. “I think it’s more of a job for religious and political leaders, who need to speak out against this anti-Muslim sentiment in our society, so that those who carry out these attacks don’t see tacit approval of their actions in the silence of public officials.”
Police described the incident as uncommon in a city that regularly welcomes international tourists of many ethnic origins, and a local Muslim leader said relations between Muslims and others generally are better in the Buffalo Niagara region than in many other parts of the country.
But police say good will went out the window at about 8:20 p.m. Thursday when Antoinette S. Ivey, 32, of Ninth Street, and another woman in a van hurled ethnic and racial slurs at a 26-year-old woman of Pakistani origin walking along Portage Road on the way to meet her husband.
The victim was wearing a purple head scarf, or hijab, a common garment among Muslim women.
According to the victim and other witnesses, the two women continued yelling at the victim after she met her husband in the parking lot of the Dollar Tree store on Portage, and when the victim asked why they were swearing at her, the two women got out of the van and assaulted her.
Before her husband could intervene, the victim was slapped in the face, knocked to the ground, punched and kicked repeatedly, police said. Her hair also was pulled, and she suffered bruises, pain and swelling on her head and body.
There is “no indication” that the victims and assailants knew each other, Police Superintendent John R. Chella said.
The victim was taken by ambulance to Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, where she was treated and released, police said.
While police searched Friday for her companion, Ivey was held in the Niagara County Jail in lieu of $750 bail. She was charged with third-degree assault as a hate crime.
The crime normally is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in a county jail, but as a hate crime, it becomes a felony punishable by up to four years in state prison, Assistant Niagara County District Attorney Peter M. Wydysh said.
Chella said this might have been the first instance this year of a hate crime, which his department is required to report quarterly to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.
The Falls, he said, is a safe place for residents and visitors.
“Our numbers don’t indicate a serious problem,” he said. “We take each individual case seriously, but we don’t have an epidemic that we’re doing anything proactively to prevent it. I can’t recall any one [incident] this year.”
Police responded quickly and appropriately, said Hooper, whose group has called on the FBI to investigate the matter along with two other recent incidents in New York City.
Relations between Muslim-Americans and others in Western New York are “much better” than some other parts of the country, said Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, president of the local chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
“We’ve been visible in the community for a number of years, and hopefully that has made a difference in how we are perceived and Muslims in general [are perceived],” Qazi said. “We want to make sure we contribute to the growth of the country like everybody else.”
News Niagara Reporter Thomas J. Prohaska contributed to this report.
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