Alaa Massri is a fierce advocate for injustice, and one that isn’t easily rattled – after all, she’s the woman who was arrested for protesting in Miami who had her hijab unlawfully removed.
As her charges have been dropped, Massri says she would like to believe it was her petition—which garnered over 315,000 signatures and counting—and the voice of the people that was heard, that led her to this outcome.
The Lebanese-American pre-med student has been a frequent protestor, attending at least three to four protests weekly since May 30, carrying medical equipment with her to tend to injured folks. Massri is also the leader and organizer of a street medic team for an organization in Miami.
Recalling the first protest she attended on May 30, Massri said, “The police started firing rubber bullets and throwing tear gas at us. I rushed to help one of the protesters who had gotten shot; he was bleeding, very, very badly … and then moments after the tear gas had gotten so bad, I actually passed out in the street, and I was carried away by random strangers.”
However, Massri did say that the majority of protests she has attended have been peaceful, with the exception of the one on May 30 and the one where she got arrested.
She also mentioned how she hadn’t considered the possibility of something happening to her. “It was a very peaceful protest, it was a Wednesday. Everyone was at work … so, we were maybe 60, 70, 80 of us, at most,” she recalls about the day of her arrest. “I knew that arrests were something that may possibly happen at a very violent protest, you know, one that has looting … and actual riots, but I never anticipated for arrests to happen where I was protesting or myself getting arrested at all. It was very unexpected and very traumatizing.”
Massri said her involvement in protests and being at the frontline of them leads her to believe that her arrest was a personal attack on her, and a tactic to scare her and the folks she’s been leading to stop them from continuing the work they’ve been doing — and will continue to do.
“For me personally, I think it just empowered me and encouraged me to continue to fight even more because the police are hiding behind their badge, where they get to lie on police reports and blatantly dictate whatever charges they want to press you with,” she explained.
While taking action against the officers involved in her arrest is a possibility, “It’s more important that something like a policy, or a bill would be passed to ensure that this never happens again, at the end of the day, that’s my end goal,” she added.
After an incident in Minnesota in 2013, where a Muslim woman suffered the same fate when she was forced to remove her hijab infront of mail jailers over a traffic offense, Minnesota decided to implement a new policy on how to treat female Muslim inmates in their state. Massri expressed that while this was a good first step, she believes it is imperative to educate officers and others who are in positions of power and implement some sort of religious learning classes or a cultural training day.
Massri believes stripping Muslim women of their hijabs during the time of their arrest is a humiliation tactic “to prove that their badge has the power, and the ability to do whatever they want and to humiliate you in whatever way that they can, and choose to do so.”
Everyone who was arrested at the time Massri was, were all males who also objected against her treatment and told the officers it was her religious right to wear her hijab, but while she was still in handcuffs, she recalls the officers grabbed her hijab off her head and took it away, and said they dictate what happens in their job.
Massri’s message to all young activists, hijabi or not is to keep going out there and keep fighting in whatever way that you can.
“It’s important to recognize your privilege,” she expresses. “No matter what type of privilege you have — whether it’s just skin color, the language that you speak, your socio-economic status, your health — all of these contribute to your privilege and the ability to recognize that and use that voice of privilege to stand up for those who are oppressed and for those who face injustices is vital in changing the world for future generations.”