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A Simple Traffic Violation By A Black Muslim Woman Resulted In A Neck Fracture At The Hands Of The NYPD


Rayhanah Alhanafi, who accuses the NYPD of excessive force and violating her religious freedom. (Arun Venugopal / WNYC / Gothamist)

An African American Muslim woman has accused the NYPD of using excessive force during an arrest and violating her religious freedom when officers ignored her repeated requests to be searched by a female officer.

On the night of July 12th, Rayhanah Alhanafi, 20, was driving her car on 145th Street in Upper Manhattan with her mother, when police officers pulled her over for a traffic violation. By her own account, detailed in a complaint to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, she complied with their requests to provide her driver’s license as well as proof of purchase for her license plates, which an Officer Khan claimed were fake.

Officer Khan (the complaint only provides his last name) asked her to step out of the car and said he was arresting her for forged plates and a license that had been previously suspended. In response, Alhanafi said she requested that Khan and the three other male officers not touch her.

“Complainant informed Officer Khan that she was Muslim and, due to her sincerely-held religious beliefs, she requested that a female officer search her,” reads the CCRB complaint. “Ms. Alhanafi made the request for a female officer at least three times.”

But Alhanafi claimed the officers “grabbed and threw her to the ground” and that Officer Khan “put his knees on Ms. Alhanafi’s back and his hands around her throat.”

She repeatedly told the officers she was in pain, according to the complaint, and that she couldn’t breathe and had asthma.

“Despite her pleas, the male officers did not cease until bystanders, who were filming the incident, yelled at them to do so.”

Eventually, a female officer did appear, but Alhanafi claimed the officer was abusive and called her a “stupid bitch.”

Alhanafi was transported by officers to the 32nd precinct, where she continually complained of neck and back pain and requested medical care “but was denied over and over. Ms. Alhanafi thought she was going to die.”

An NYPD spokesman said he was not familiar with the case but that it “sounds like a case that would be investigated and referred to Internal Affairs or Civilian Complaint Review Board.”

Alhanafi spent the night at the precinct before being taken to NYPD Manhattan Central Booking, downtown. She was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. At no point, she argued, was she provided with medical care.

It was only on July 14th, two days after the incident, that she went to an emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a hairline neck fracture.

Her lawyer, Ahmed Mohamed, said the treatment she received at the hands of the police was part of a larger pattern of abuse against people of color. At a press conference on Thursday, he recounted how another Muslim client, 16-year-old Afrar Chowdhury, was assaulted by a 40-year-old man in July and ended up in the hospital. Chowdhury received surgery and had four plates inserted into his face.

“When he couldn’t ID the adult assailant, the NYPD ghosted him,” said Mohamed. He said officers failed to return the family’s phone calls about the state of the investigation and closed the case without notifying them.

“It was like he didn’t exist anymore,” he said. “We want this case investigated properly.”

Mohamed said another Muslim client, Fatoumata Camara, had a similar experience after being robbed and brutally beaten in May, then discovering the NYPD had closed the case. It was later reopened, after Camara uncovered surveillance video of the attack.

Mohamed accused the NYPD of adhering to a pattern of “failing to investigate when the victims are black or brown or immigrant or Muslim.”

He pointed to recent reports that the NYPD had failed to substantiate a single complaint of racial profiling or biased policing, despite nearly 2,500 complaints since 2014.

Alhanafi said that more than a month after her own incident, she was incapable of driving a car.

“I’m still very depressed,” Alhanafi told reporters Thursday.

“Before this incident, I believed there were good cops,” she said. “But now, at this point, I feel that all cops are evil.”

Mohamed said Alhanafi eventually received a downgraded traffic violation for her suspended license, and that the charge of forged plates was dismissed.

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