Woman charged in Fort Hood-related hate crime: Pulling a headscarf

An Illinois woman is charged with a hate crime for berating a Muslim woman about the Fort Hood shooting and then pulling at her headscarf. The charge could lead to three years in prison: justice or prosecutorial overkill?

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In the days after the Ft. Hood shooting, mosques around the country bolstered their security in anticipation of a backlash from Americans angry about a Muslim man alleged to have killed American soldiers on their own turf.

Since then, only one alleged hate crime against Muslims has been directly tied to the Fort Hood rampage.

Two days after the rampage by an alleged lone wolf jihadist killed 13 in Texas, a Tinley Park, Ill., woman grumbled about the massacre and tugged the headscarf of a US-born Muslim woman, Amal Abusumayah, standing in line at a local grocery store.

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Reaction was swift and, as prosecutors announced this week, serious: The alleged scarf-puller, Valerie Kenney, is charged with a hate crime, and she could face three years in prison and a $25,000 fine if convicted.

The incident shows that prosecutors are increasingly serious about throwing the book at even small infractions of state and federal hate-crime laws. Yet three possible years in prison in this case, critics say, is overkill, and could serve to cheapen the definition of a hate crime.

"Look, if Kenney did what she's accused of doing, it was a nasty thing to do, and it's certainly a Stupid Crime," writes Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper. "But jail time? How about an apology, forgiveness, some kind of community service and everybody moves on?"

The Pew Research Center reported in September that Americans believe US Muslims face more discrimination than any other major religious group.

Incidents against Muslims spiked after 9/11, but soon dropped back down. And of 1,477 religiously-based crimes in 2007, 68 percent were against Jews while nine percent were aimed at Muslims.

But for many Muslims, the headscarf incident in Tinley Park – a town recently voted by BusinessWeek magazine as the best place in America to live and work – is "exactly the type of thing we worried about happening," Christina Abraham, the civil rights director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Medill Reports, a student-written news service in Chicago.

"Usually after incidents like Fort Hood, there tends to be a spike in hate crimes. Current events cause people to act out in bigotry," she said.

According to police reports, Ms. Kenney, a bank teller, walked up to Ms. Abusumayah and shouted, "The guy that did the Texas shooting, he wasn't American, and he was from the Middle East!" (The alleged shooter, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, is a US citizen born in Virginia.)

After being ignored, Kenney allegedly walked up behind Abusumayah and pulled her hijab, the traditional headscarf worn by many Muslim women in public.

Kenney posted a $5,000 bail, but has not yet made a plea. She is scheduled in court on Dec. 3.

"Attacking our headscarf is essentially trampling on the pride that we hold so dear," Chicago CAIR's Amina Sharif told Medill Reports. "An attack on the hijab is an attack on dignity and faith of God."

Others say both CAIR and prosecutors in the case are being overly sensitive.

"There's no defending Kenney's alleged behavior, which sounds like disorderly conduct at least, but the charge and prospective penalty are grotesquely disproportionate unless there is more to the story," writes the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto.

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