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A massive disturbance broke out at Playland Park in Westchester County, New York, Tuesday when a group of Muslim visitors grew angry over park rules forbidding the use of "headgear" on some of its rides. The headgear, in this instance, was the traditional Muslim head covering -- often called a hijab -- worn by women.
Authorities from allegedly nine different agencies descended on the fun-park after county police responded to the disturbance, which by that time, involved some 30 to 40 people. Local reports indicate some 3,000 Muslim-Americans had gathered at the park.
By 4:30 p.m., nearly two hours after the altercation broke out, some three dozen police cruisers blocked Playland's entrance and a helicopter was seen flying overhead. A reporter allegedly counted roughly 60 cruisers on the scene from various agencies.
According to reports, twelve men and three women were arrested, mostly for disorderly conduct, and two park rangers were injured in the scuffle. So far two have been charged with felony assault after officials asserted they attacked park rangers.
Lohud reports that the group of Muslims were at Playland to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. The outing was allegedly organized by the Muslim American Society of New York.
Playland spokesman Peter Tartaglia stated that park officials were clear in expressing to MASNY the safety reasons behind the headgear ban but said the rules might not have been communicated by the organizer to some of the attendees. The ban, implemented nearly four years ago, is intended to keep hats and other head coverings from falling onto the tracks and derailing rides. “It’s a safety issue on rides. If it’s a scarf, you could choke,” Tartaglia said.
According to reports, Playland's policies, posted on its website, include the statement: "All items and clothing must be appropriately secured while on a ride; some smaller items can be stored/secured in cargo pockets or waist pouches. Hats must be secured, and jackets/sweaters must be worn properly and not around the waist while on a ride. Some rides do not allow backpacks, purses or head gear of any kind."
Lohud explains what happened as the scene grew volatile:
Accounts of what had happened varied, but everyone agreed the dispute began after park-goers were told the headgear ban applied to women wearing traditional Muslim head coverings, known as hijabs.
Tartaglia said once word of that got out there were “a lot of unhappy people.”
He said park officials were in the process of arranging refunds when members of the Muslim group got into a scuffle with each other.
The two rangers, seasonal county police employees, were hurt trying to break it up, he said. He said one suffered an injured knee and the other an injured shoulder.
Lola Ali, 16, of Astoria said she had witnessed a group of girls and women wearing hijabs go to park security to confront them about the headgear issue.
She said the women were upset and yelling. She said the security officers started pushing them away and the girls stood their ground, at which point the security officers grabbed them, pushed them to the ground and handcuffed them.
Men within the park saw this and tried to intervene, Ali said, and the situation went downhill from there.
“They were beating down the girls then they started beating down the guys,” Ali claimed.
Earlier in the day a park employee reportedly told Journal News that a woman wearing a hijab either pushed or hit a ride operator who forbade her from wearing the head covering on the ride. The employee asserted that a police officer attempted to restrain the woman, but the woman’s husband took offense, at which point a multiple-person fight broke out.
The park was even closed off to new visitors for a period of time until the situation was diffused. Some of those involved in the incident, however, believe the amount of police response was overkill:
Ali and Gina Shibah of Yonkers said the amount of police response was unnecessary.
“Sixty vehicles, it’s wasting our taxpayer dollars,” Ali Shibah said.
Sal Mohumed of Brooklyn said he hoped for a refund for himself and his two cousins.
“I thought we would come and play in Playland,” he said. “There’s no playing here. Coney Island is better than this.”
Below is audio of an interview between a police officer at the scene and a local Harrison Patch reporter: