Civil Rights Report 2017: Case Studies

Examples of the human experience of bias are offered throughout this report. The below case summaries are collected in one section to offer added depth.

Hate Crimes

Kansas: Federal authorities charged three militia members for conspiring to bomb a Kansas mosque. The men belonged to a group named “the Crusaders,” and planned to murder primarily Somali Muslim immigrants, whom they referred to as “cockroaches,” just after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The men believed that their “bloodbath” would “wake people up” and hoped it would inspire similar acts.

New York: Mujibur Rahman was walking with his nine-year-old niece in the Bronx borough of New York City when he was attacked from behind by two men who yelled “ISIS, ISIS.” The victim, who is of Bangladeshi heritage and was wearing traditional Muslim attire, was reportedly punched several times in the head and kicked after he fell to the ground. He was taken to a local hospital where he was treated and released. Police later arrested two teens after a parent heard one of them bragging about the attack. The suspects were charged with “misdemeanor assault and harassment as a hate crime.”

Texas: Zaza Bar & Bites, a Muslim-owned restaurant in Galveston, was vandalized with bacon twice in one week. In the first incident, bacon grease was smeared over the door handles of the restaurant. In the second, bacon pieces were strewn across the front of the establishment.

Missouri: Leonard Debello yelled “You Muslim? All of you should die” at a Muslim couple who were shopping for a home in his neighborhood. He subsequently pointed a gun at them. Debello was charged with “unlawful use of a weapon motivated by discrimination.”

Ohio: An armed man shot a sixteen-year-old Lakewood High School student who was walking home from his part-time job. According to the victim, who was wearing an Islamic head covering called a “kufi” at the time of the alleged attack, the perpetrator called him a “terrorist” and a “Taliban b*tch” before the shooting. The student was struck in the shoulder and was left bleeding at the scene. Denzel Johnson was subsequently arrested and charged with felonious assault.

Illinois: A Muslim mother and daughter were harassed and physically attacked in West Rogers Park. Video footage of the incident shows the attacker shouting obscene and Islamophobic slurs such as “f**king b*tch” and “f**k you ISIS b*tch” at the women while they were sitting in a vehicle. The attacker tried to enter the vehicle, but upon finding the doors locked, kicked the vehicle and smashed the side view mirror while the women inside sat terrified and screaming. As the attacker walked away, she continued to yell derogatory, misogynistic and Islamophobic slurs at the Muslim women. The mother and daughter reported that the same individual had also spat on, harassed, and yelled at them repeatedly while they were walking to their vehicle that morning.


Texas: Syed Ali was under consideration as a precinct chair for the local Republican Party. Trevor Gordon, chaplain for the Harris County Republican Party, challenged Ali’s nomination, saying “Islam and Christianity do not mix” and Islam “is the total opposite of our foundation.” After one man cited party rules against religious discrimination, Mike Robertson is reported to have asked “Has there been any factual information provided that Islam is a religion?” The majority in the room voted against Gordon and Robertson’s bid to block Ali, who later expressed gratitude for the number of people who supported him in the face of bias.

California: Mohamed Abbas, a disabled U.S. Army veteran working at the Department of Defense’s Marine Department Maintenance Command Production Plant, discovered his restroom locker vandalized with with the words “terrorist” and “raghead.” Abbas, who served in Iraq, has worked as a tools and parts attendant at the base since 2010 and alleges that harassment directed toward him began four years ago. He scratched the graffiti out and did not report it out of fear of retribution. He says he would routinely receive comments from co-workers who would ask questions such as “When are you going to blow the place up?”

Maryland: A U.S. military veteran and his wife, who wears a headscarf, were shopping for a home in Frederick. According to their realtor, when he showed the couple a neighborhood clubhouse, a woman at the pool yelled, “We don’t want Muslims in our clubhouse. Take off that robe over your head.”


Arizona: A threatening letter was posted to the door of a recently resettled Syrian refugee family while the husband was at work and the wife and their young children were home alone. It read, “Go away killers,” “We do not like you living here!” “Please move before danger can happen,” and “America hates terrorist like you!” CAIR reported the incident to the Tucson Police Department and the family moved to a new apartment out of fear for their safety.

California: Hundreds of letters inciting mass violence were left on the front windshields of cars parked in Midtown, Sacramento. These letters said, “kidnap, rob, torture for information, and execute all Muslims and Latinos. Leave no survivors.” Shortly following this, a neo-Nazi rally occurred in downtown Sacramento. The rally turned violent and some in attendance were stabbed. In response to these incidents, CAIR participated in a community-wide rally for unity at the state capitol and spoke at a press conference alongside ally organizations to promote unity within the community.

Ohio: A Muslim woman and her children and elderly parents were threatened and verbally abused in their car by a man when the woman stopped at a traffic light. The man allegedly approached the car and started banging on the window. He then reportedly started yelling slurs and obscenities at the woman including, “C**t, you don’t belong in this country,” and “Go back to your f**king country.” The man also allegedly took pictures of the children in the car.


Colorado: Cargill Meat Solutions, a meat distribution service, informed its employees that it would no longer accommodate prayer break requests. When impacted employees did not call in or show up to work for three days in order to protest the change of the plant’s prayer accommodation policy, Cargill fired about 150 Somali Muslim employees for violating the company’s attendance policy. In collaboration with another civil rights law firm, CAIR filed discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission on behalf of the over 130 employees. Shortly thereafter, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment ruled that the Muslim workers fired from Cargill were eligible for unemployment benefits because a company cannot force workers to choose between their religion and their jobs. An investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is still pending.

Pennsylvania: State Correctional Institution-Mahanoy terminated an employee from his job because he performed prayer during work hours. CAIR sued SCI-Mahanoy for infringing upon the man’s religious rights and failing to provide religious accommodation. The case went to trial and the Judge ruled that the prison’s policy unfairly burdened Muslim inmates’ right to pray. As a result of the lawsuit, SCI-Mahanoy is now required to allow all Muslim kitchen workers the right to perform prayer during their shifts.

Denial of Service

Arizona: Two recently relocated Iraqi refugees were banned from the premises of Westgate Entertainment District because, according to the police report, mall security noticed that “two Middle Eastern males [were] walking through the mall taking pictures.” The men were at the mall on New Year’s’ Eve and took several photographs of themselves and their friends around a large Christmas tree. When they returned to the mall in January, they were confronted by mall security and Glendale police officers, and removed from the mall’s vicinity. CAIR filed a formal complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Arizona: A pregnant woman was denied service by the in-house tailor at Nordstrom Rack because of her headscarf. The woman asked to have a private fitting room because she did not feel comfortable having her measurements taken in the open. The tailor responded, “You can cover up where you came from. You can’t do that in America” and refused to fit the woman. CAIR filed formal complaint of public service denial with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Anti-Mosque Incidents

California: Police arrested Mark Feigin, who had called in threats to the Islamic Center of Southern California, after they found a stockpile of rifles, shotguns, handguns, several modified high-capacity magazines and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his home. Police stated that he had the means to carry out his threat.

Florida: The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce sustained extensive damage after it was deliberately set on fire. A male arrived on a motorcycle carrying paper and a bottle of liquid. He approached the northeast side of the building and ignited the fire before running away.

Oklahoma: A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot at the Islamic Center of Lawton, and dropped a pig carcass from the tailgate into the lot. The perpetrators have not yet been identified.

New Jersey: The Bernards Township Planning Board denied the construction of mosque proposed by the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge. Township officials involved in the decision routinely disparaged Muslims and Islam in emails from their personal accounts. The U.S. Department of Justice opened a civil rights investigation into the decision and subsequently filed a federal lawsuit over the township’s denial of the mosque.

Florida: Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher removed the Islamic Center of Boca Raton as a polling station in an apparent response to complaints from voters who felt “uneasy casting their ballot at a mosque.” Some of the complaints were described as vulgar and threatening. It is common practice to use places of worship as polling places.


Texas: A Muslim 7th grader was called a terrorist by his teacher at First Colony Middle School in Fort Bend County. The student laughed at a scene from a movie that was being screened for the class, and the teacher said “I wouldn’t be laughing if I was you.” Asked why, the teacher responded, “because we all think you’re a terrorist.” Other students then began adding their own jokes implying the twelve-year-old was a terrorist such as, “You have bombs” and “I can see the bombs.” The teacher was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

California: On her first day at school in a headscarf, 10-year old Yasmeen was called a “terrorist” and told that she came from “a family of killers.” She was sent home in tears. The next day, when a helicopter flew over the school at recess, one of her peers told Yasmeen that the helicopter was coming to take her because she didn’t belong in America. Yasmeen’s family contacted CAIR, who met with the school and school district to ensure Yasmeen would not face any more hate going forward. Yasmeen then became the face of CAIR’s efforts to pass AB-2845, a bill to protect Muslim and Sikh students from school bullying. Her testimony at assembly hearings left assembly members in tears. With Yasmeen’s help, AB-2845 passed the State Assembly and Senate and was signed into law.