Diana Aqra/Aurora, CO – Federal civil and criminal prosecutors from the Colorado Division of the United States Department of Justice visited the Colorado Muslim Society today in Aurora, Colorado to encourage Muslim women and their children to defend themselves against hate crimes and harassment in public.
Four prosecutors in civil and criminal areas and an officer from the Denver Police Department held a panel discussion and self-defense class at Masjd Abu Bakr on Parker Road in Aurora, Colorado Sunday. The group and the city are making statewide efforts to prevent violent activity in the community and empower vulnerable groups, according to Amanda Rocque, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The three-hour course today was directed toward Muslim women and children to speak up for civil and criminal rights and included legal advice in four areas including physical harassment, verbal harassment, discrimination at school and criminal mischief against people based on their race, ethnicity or religion.
The group of 25-or-so at the mosque included mostly young Muslim girls and their mothers.
One young girl of about 14 said she experienced racism while walking with her family. She was covered with a headscarf. She said when she was younger, a man came up to her and her family and said, “You are in America now, and you can take off your headscarf.” She said she replied, thereafter, “Yes, I am in American now, so I can wear my headscarf.”
Almost all the women in the room raised their hand when asked if they had been called a racial slur or experienced some sort of racial or religious harassment in public, at their jobs or in school.
Celeste Rangel, a prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the District of Colorado’s De said that documentation is the most important part of reporting harassment. Although it may be time consuming, taking a picture of the person who is harassing, writing down the time and words that they said, and reporting it as fast as possible will be critical in holding that person accountable in court or by their institution.
Denver Police Department, Officer Putnam, said that recording a racial slur and other discriminatory language will assist in the prosecution.
In many cases, “you might be the fourth person reporting that person [who harassed you],” and in that case it would be easy for the Department of Justice to track and prosecute that person or institution, said Amanda Rocque, the Deputy Civil Chief of the United States Attorney’s Office of the Department of Justice. Rocque said that her department recently closed a case involving four people visiting the Aurora/Arapahoe County Denver Motor who were wrongly forced to remove or change the look of their headscarf or turban before taking their photo. The experience made the four people uncomfortable for them since they do not show their heads, especially in photos.
The four people who reported the incident and the Department of Justice made contact with the DMV in order to reinstate the law under the REAL ID Act, which states “regulation does not require the exposure of the hair lines or the ears.” The four victims were allowed to retake their pictures with their headscarfs and turbans worn as they normally do.
Another woman said she had been expelled when she was in high school for fighting a boy who was harassing her and pulling her headscarf. The other boy was suspended, but not expelled. Other women experienced similar harassment in the streets. She did not report it at the time. Gloria L. Montoya, Civil Rights Attorney at the U.S. Department of Education told her that that was a great example of something that she could have reported.
“Please make complaints,” said Montoya. “It is the only way we can do our jobs.”
By Diana Aqra
Listen to hear women’s stories and the prosecutors speak:
See other articles: Rocque receives ‘Outstanding Performance – https://www.justice.gov/usao-co/pr/attorney-general-recognizes-outstanding-performance-five-employees-us-attorneys-office