Top NYC lawyer: NYPD influenced by anti-Asian & anti-Muslim bias in arresting her for blocking sidewalk

Chaumtoli Huq in a photo from Law@TheMargins
Chaumtoli Huq in a photo from Law@TheMargins

42-year-old Chaumtoli Huq is a top human rights lawyer and formerly a prominent attorney for NYC Public Advocate Letitia James’ office; Huq has received numerous awards for her public service. Huq is also a Senior Research Fellow for the American Institute for Bangladesh Studies, a leader of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), and editor of Law@TheMargins. Huq has previously taught at New York Law School, and the rest of her CV is as extensive as it is impressive. Recently, Huq embarked on a nine-month leave from the Public Advocates’ Office to focus on workers’ rights efforts in Bangladesh.

In short, Chaumtoli Huq is basically Wonder Woman, which is what makes last month’s events involving Huq and the NYPD all the more galling.

On July 19th, Huq was standing outside of a Times Square Ruby Tuesday’s waiting for her husband and her two children to use the bathroom. That’s when she was approached by two NYPD officers, who told her to move along.

Chaumtoli Huq (Photo via Twitter)
Chaumtoli Huq (Photo via Twitter)

Huq and her family had just left a pro-Palestinian rally in Times Square when her 10- and 6-year-old children needed to use the bathroom. That’s when Huq’s husband, Marvin Cabrera, took them into the restaurant; Huq decided to wait outside.

According to Huq, she was standing just inches from the Ruby Tuesday door when police told her to move along. When Huq pointed out that she wasn’t blocking the sidewalk, and that there was plenty of room for pedestrians to move around her, NYPD officers allegedly pinned Huq against the wall. Huq tells DNAinfo:

“At that point I didn’t know what was happening. I was just thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ and all of a sudden the officer flips me [around]…he [turns] my body and presses me against the wall of the restaurant,” Huq said. “He shoved my left arm all the way and kept pushing it and handcuffed me. At that point I just like instinctively yelled, ‘Help!’ because I was alone. I screamed, ‘Help!’”

The officers searched Huq’s purse without probable cause and then took her to the Midtown South Precinct. When Huq’s husband and children emerged from the restaurant, Huq had already been taken away. After being informed of what had happened by another officer, Cabrera tried to find Huq at the precinct.

At that time, Huq says that her arresting officer offered to take her purse and other personal items to her husband and children, standing outside. But, Huq says the officer then became suspicious when he learned that her husband had a different last name. According to the federal civil rights suit that Huq filed earlier this week, the officer said, “In America, wives take the names of their husbands.”

At the time of Huq’s arrest, she was wearing traditional Indian garb, along with her nose ring. Huq — who is both Muslim and South Asian American — alleges that the officers targeted her as part of a larger pattern of harassment against Muslims and non-Whites. She told DNAinfo:

“My civil rights were violated. I think that I was treated differently because of being a woman,” she said. “I think I was targeted once my husband left. I think that I was being targeted based on my religion and my race.”

“I went from being a mother to a prisoner and so I can’t imagine mothers who experience their children or their boys having such an experience with police officers,” Huq said. “That shouldn’t be the case in New York.”

Huq has filed a complaint with the Civilian Complaint Review Board of the NYPD, and has also filed a federal lawsuit alleging bias in Manhattan Federal Court. According to Gothamist:

In her lawsuit filed Tuesday in Manhattan Federal Court, Huq claims the NYPD acted with “unreasonable and wholly unprovoked force” and that their behavior was “characteristic of a pattern and practice of the NYPD in aggressive overpolicing of people of color and persons lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”

On the charges for which Huq was arrested, Huq spent more than nine hours in jail and was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court for obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct. Those charges were dismissed in exchange for Huq’s agreement to have the case adjourned and to promise not to be arrested again within six month.

We know about Huq’s case because she is a top lawyer and academic, who has both the education and connection to know her rights and to fight for them. What we don’t see are the many cases where the NYPD may be targeting people on racial or religious grounds, where complaints and lawsuits are never filed, and therefore headlines are never written drawing attention to these cases.

The NYPD has faced accusations of racial profiling and harassment of Muslim Americans for over a decade. A massive Associated Press investigation conducted last year revealed a pattern of profiling by the NYPD that targeted Muslim American communities, including tactics that appear to violate the civil rights of those targeted. According to the ACLU, informants were inappropriately dispatched into Muslim American populations to bait citizens into discussing terrorism, and entire mosques were designated “terrorism enterprises”. While the specific unit whose mission it was to profile Muslim Americans was shut down in April, civil rights organizations are concerned that a culture of religious and racial profiling continues within the NYPD, and Huq argues that this culture contributed to her arrest and unlawful search.

Meanwhile, it is worth also remembering that anti-Muslim hate crimes in this country remain at an all-time high.

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