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Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Racial Profiling in Contempt of Court case?


ATLANTA (AP) – A judge ordered the arrest of a Muslim woman who refused to take off her head scarf at a court security checkpoint.

The judge ordered Lisa Valentine, 40, to serve 10 days in jail for contempt of court, said police in Douglasville, a city of about 20,000 people on Atlanta's west suburban outskirts.

Valentine's husband, Omar Hall, said his wife was accompanying her nephew to a traffic citation hearing when officials stopped her at the metal detector and told her she would not be allowed in the courtroom with the head scarf, known as a hijab.

Valentine violated a court policy that prohibits people from wearing any headgear in court, police said after the Tuesday arrest.

Hall said Valentine, an insurance underwriter, told the bailiff that she had been in courtrooms before with the scarf on and that removing it would be a religious violation. When she turned to leave and uttered an expletive, Hall said a bailiff handcuffed her and took her before the judge.

There are so many things wrong in this story, leaving aside the almost certainty that the AP got some of the details wrong, as they invariably do.

First of all, the security requirement is Big Brother gone wrong. If security were truly a concern in the headgear ban, then court attendees would be required to remove everything but their underwear--and items that scare judges can be hidden in underwear more easily than in a headscarf. It's extremely insensitive to the millions of people in the world, men and women, who wouldn't feel dressed without headgear, and an insult to the common sense of most everyone else.

Secondly, it smacks of political correctness. Look at the names: these are evidently Euro-Americans who converted to Islam. Lisa just didn't look like a Muslim, and the guard evidently felt quite free in refusing to accommodate her religion. If so, it just goes to show that racial profiling is basically impossible to eliminate. The White Man has been the target of just such a You-don't-look-like-you-could-possibly-qualify denial of special treatment.

Thirdly, the story is all given from Lisa's side, with the sole admittance that she uttered an expletive at the guard before being cuffed and booked. In my book, cussing out a security guard is not only stupid, it's probably illegal, given the language she likely used. But giving the judge, who never even saw her, power to throw her in jail for it is a denial of due process. She should have been arrested and arraigned. But that's not how it works in our Brave New World in which judges disdain to function in their appointed judiciary role alone, but demand their share of the legislative and executive roles as well.

Well, in this story, political correctness trumped racial profiling, and Lisa got off scot-free:

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations urged federal authorities to investigate the incident as well as others in Georgia.

"I just felt stripped of my civil, my human rights," Valentine told The Associated Press on Wednesday from her home, after she said she was unexpectedly released once CAIR got involved. Jail officials declined to say why she was freed.

Municipal Court Judge Keith Rollins said that "it would not be appropriate" for him to comment on the case.

Would that we all had such friends in high places. Better yet, though, that none of us did.

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