A civil liberties group said Monday that an incident in which a woman was assaulted at the Meridian Mall on Saturday should be investigated as a possible hate crime.
Meridian Township police confirmed that officers responded to an assault that occurred at the mall Saturday but would neither confirm nor deny the description of events offered by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI).
Dawud Walid, executive director for CAIR-MI, said two white men and a white woman surrounded a 26-year-old Muslim woman and tried to pull off her face veil and abaya, a full body dress worn by some Muslim women. They knocked her to the ground and shouted expletives at her, he said.
“We urge state, local and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for this troubling incident and to make every effort to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice,” said Walid.
Meridian Township police Lt. Ken Plaga said officers responded to an assault complaint at the food court entrance of the mall at 12:25 p.m. He said the investigation remains open and declined to discuss details of the incident. No arrests had been made by Monday afternoon, he said. Plaga said paramedics responded to the scene, but no one was transported to a hospital.
Thasin Sardar, outreach coordinator for the Islamic Center of East Lansing, said he was aware of the incident. He said the woman sought treatment at a local hospital Sunday for chest pain and numbness on her left side. Sardar said he couldn’t recall a similar incident happening recently in the Lansing area. Greater Lansing is a welcoming community, and “we are hoping this was just some kind of anomaly,” he said.
The woman was getting ready to leave the mall with her husband and their two young children when the alleged assailants gathered around her, Sardar said. Her husband was returning a mall stroller at that time. One of the men tried to pull down the Muslim woman’s abaya, causing her to fall over, he said.
Her husband, Hadi Madkhali, followed one of the men to the parking lot, saw him get into a car and took down the license plate number. The other two suspects fled into the mall.
Madkhali, a mechanical engineering student at Michigan State University who lives in East Lansing, said he and his family have shopped at stores in the area without fear. But since Saturday’s incident, his wife and children are now afraid to leave their home, he said. “I am wondering about this situation, I don’t believe what’s going on,” he said.