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15 Arrested At Playland In Dispute Over Muslim Headwear

Members of group on holiday visit to park upset they were not allowed on some rides.

Fifteen people were arrested and the entrance to Playland was closed Tuesday afternoon after a dispute at the park involving religious dress.

Police from multiple departments from throughout Westchester County were called in for assistance.

The dispute broke out at about 2:30 p.m. near the park's entrance between members of the Muslim American Society of New York, according to Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of Westchester County Parks. Fighting began when they were told they would be denied access to certain rides if they wore religious garb, Tartaglia said.

Two seasonal officers were injured while joining Westchester County Police who were trying to break up the scuffle, he said.

At least 60 police vehicles from eight surrounding departments quickly arrived at the park and park visitors say they thought that as many as 20 or more people were taken away from the park by police.

The park and its rides remained open Tuesday, but new visitors were not being allowed into the park. Tartaglia said no one inside was asked to leave the park.

Members of the Muslim American Society of New York said they were at the park today for a group visit, with members from Yonkers, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. There were 3,000 members of the tour group, comprising half of the 6,000 patrons that visited Playland on Tuesday. The group was at the park celebrating Eid ul-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast), which marks the end of Ramadan. The holiday lasts for three days and includes celebrations with prayers, sweets and presents for children, and community festivities.

Members of the group said that some of their fellow members sought refunds from that park and that led to a disturbance. Park officials dispute this, saying a refund was offered.

Tartaglia said the rules and regulations of the park were made clear before the group arrived, blaming group organizers for not conveying the message.

"Part of our rules and regulations, which we painstakingly told them over and over again, is that certain rides you can not wear any sort of headgear," said Tartaglia. "It's a safety issue for us on rides, it could become a projectile."  

Members were are at the park gates shortly after the incident, noting that they had not been able to get information about the status of friends and relatives. Members of the group said they were discussing what to do next — whether they should stay at the entrance to the park or leave.

"They just want to make our life a nightmare for no reason," said Akram Farghlay, while waiting outside.

Akram Ghadami, a member of the group, said they came to Playland to have fun and celebrate the holiday.

"We shouldn't be treated that way," Ghadami said. "We have a right to have a little fun like everyone else. Why are they making a big deal about this?"

He was standing at the entrance to Playland with several of his friends, waiting for others who were still inside the park.

"For some reason, they think everyone in there is a terrorist," Ghadami said.

Others said the situation was blown out of proportion, and didn't require such a large police presence.

"If that person had a problem, they should have just handcuffed the person and taken him away without making a big scene," said Ali Shibah, who was leaving the park with his wife and children.

The 15 arrested are charged with misdemeanors, Tartaglia said, but other charges are possible. Those arrested were taken to Westchester County Police offices in Hawthorne and Ossining. The suspects were mostly from New York City. They were arraigned and released Tuesday evening, according to a statement the county released Tuesday night.

The park's entrance was open by Tuesday evening.

Here's what Playland says about restrictions on head gear:

• Loose articles and personal possessions such as electronic devices, keys, hats, glasses, backpacks, purses and stuffed animals should be left at home, kept in a locker or left with a non-rider while at the Park or on rides. Lockers are provided for a fee, and some rides provide shared bins. 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.

Steve Mustacchi August 31, 2011 at 02:42 AM
Satta, I admire your comment and your courage to put it here.
sage August 31, 2011 at 02:56 AM
It is because everyone wants to turn everything that they are upset about into something it is not. I'm not allowed to do this? Why?! Is it because I'm (insert religion/sexual orientation/gender/race/whatever)?! No it's a saftey issue. I'm not saying that it is always like that. Of course there really are bigots. But not every time.
Robert Solari August 31, 2011 at 03:16 AM
The Yankees Win! The Yankees Win!
Satta Sarmah August 31, 2011 at 10:36 AM
Hello Everyone, I've shut down the commenting thread on this story because while some commenters have stuck with the issue at hand—Playland's headgear policy vs. whether religious dress should be a part of the policy—others seem to be intent on discussing 9/11, Osama Bin Laden and Islamic extremism, which have no relevance to the incident that occurred at Playland on Tuesday. If the story dealt with those issues, then those comments—which would have to be in line with our terms of services—would be warranted. Thanks, Satta Sarmah Hudson Valley Associate Regional Editor
Satta Sarmah August 31, 2011 at 10:42 AM
Also, if you're curious about our terms of service, you can find them here: http://newrochelle.patch.com/terms ( Acceptable Use section).

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