It’s a familiar scene.
One parent takes their children into a restaurant to use the restroom while the other parent waits outside. It’s been done by many of us — as parents, aunties, uncles, siblings. When kids have to go, they have to go.
But on July 19 this year, this simple and innocent scenario ended with the arrest and brutalization of one of the parents.
Absurd and humiliating acts of police overreach have also become familiar in this country. There are countless incidents of false arrest, harassment and use of force against innocent victims by the police every day in the U.S. The cases that end in loss of life garner headlines (sometimes), but mostly we don’t hear of the seemingly minor and mundane cases, unless they happen to us or to our family and friends.
But this time, the police picked on the wrong person.
Chaumtoli Huq, a well-respected human rights lawyer who is on a leave of absence as general counsel for New York City’s office of Public Advocate, was arrested in the middle of Times Square (a place often filled with tens of thousands of people standing in public) for, it seems, simply standing in public.
Standing in public and being South Asian and Muslim that is.
Huq — who was born in Bangladesh — and her family, had attended a rally in support of Palestinian rights that day. Then they took the young kids to the restroom at Ruby Tuesday nearby. Even though she was standing “inches” from the restaurant windows, police told Huq to clear the sidewalk. Huq said, “I’m not in anybody’s way. Why do I have to move? What’s the problem?”
That’s when police grabbed Huq and slammed her against the wall. She called for help and stated out loud, “I am not resisting arrest.” Police twisted her arm behind her back and handcuffed her. The officers rifled through her purse without probable cause. The police arrested her and took her away before her family even returned from the restroom.
To make matters worse, when Huq’s husband went to the jail, he aroused suspicion from police because he had a different last name than his wife. “In America wives take the names of their husbands,” the officer said.
Well then. What year is this again?
According to DNAInfo, Huq “was held for more than nine hours in lockup before being arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, court records show.”
Huq and her family have subsequently filed a complaint with the New York Police Department’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. They are also suing the NYPD and the City of New York in Federal Court for violating her civil rights, charging the police used “unreasonable and wholly unprovoked force” and claiming the arrest was part of a pattern of harassment of people of color in the city.
Huq told New York Daily News “I was hesitant to bring a case. My job is to be behind the scenes, and help all New Yorkers,” she said. But she realized “that I can use what happened to me to raise awareness about overpolicing in communities of color. I want there to be a dialogue on policing and community relations,” she said.
Let’s hope that conversation is one good outcome of this terrible and avoidable incident.
At the Alliance for a Just Society we speak of the criminalization of everyday life. Perhaps nothing demonstrates that reality more than an innocent mom being arrested for standing still on the sidewalk.
PHOTOS: © Charles Meacham Used with permission.