More than 350 students from Fairfax High School in Virginia walked out in protest Thursday to show their solidarity with a student who was allegedly attacked in an Islamophobic incident. According to a Change.org petition, a Black Muslim student, identified as Ekran Mohammad, was allegedly harassed by a group of boys, who threw her onto a desk and removed her hijab on Tuesday.
Both the attackers and the victim were reported to have received equal punishment and made to have in-school suspension in the same room, students told NBC News. After expressing that she felt unseen, the victim’s classmates not only came together but marched in protest for her. “If we don’t feel safe in our environment, in our school, then something has to be done,” Mohammad said. Not only was Mohammad’s experience allegedly not taken seriously, but suspending her in the same room as her attackers raised questions by students and others alike.
Initial investigations by the City of Fairfax Police Department announced Saturday that the altercation was not a hate crime, but the student impacted and others have disagreed. While direct racial slurs were allegedly not used, other Islamophobic comments were made prior to the incident.
“There’s multiple witnesses who can attest to racist and Islamophobic comments and overtures being made immediately prior to the incident into the assault,” said Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, which represents the 16-year-old student.
One student told NBC News that she and her friends were working on a project when a group of students began to harass them. They were “making these Islamophobic jokes, talking about Jewish people and Nazis, creating the Islamic symbol and putting an X across it,” a student identified as Eliza Gill said.
That’s when Mohammad confronted one of the boys and reportedly “lightly shoved him away,” to which he reacted violently. “[He] threw me across the room. I hit my left side on the desk, and my chest hit the chair,” Mohammad said. He allegedly then removed her hijab.
“I was definitely in shock. I couldn’t process what just happened, so I was standing there when my teacher finally lifted her up,” Gill said, noting that Mohammad was knocked to the ground after the incident. “That’s when I could actually process it in my head, and I ran after her.”
Following the incident, Mohammad allegedly spent the evening in the emergency room during which medical reports show contusions and bruises. This evidence was given to the police, WTOP reported.
Unfortunately, students have expressed that such incidents are not new to the school. But despite this, “the school isn’t doing much to avoid it,” a student told ABC7. “The hate is so prominent,” another student added.
“It’s extremely difficult to learn somewhere where you don’t even feel like you’re accepted,” student Hussein Hamdan told NBC News.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has called on law enforcement to launch a hate crime investigation. “This incident must be investigated as a possible hate crime by law enforcement, and the alleged assailant must be suspended while the investigation takes place,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.
Investigations into the incident are ongoing, according to a press release issued by the city’s police department. The police department also noted that it was not notified by the school regarding the assault instead heard about it due to the student rally.
“It’s the students that brought attention to this, and we need to remember that,” Ayoub said. “We need to empower them and realize the important role they played in standing up for one of their own.”