Muslim Women Say No One Intervened When Man Attacked Them

"I'm used to people looking at me on the street. But I don't want to get used to people attacking me."

A man allegedly spat at a group of Muslim female college students last week while aboard a New Jersey train, and addressed them with racial and gendered slurs. The women said no one on the train came to their defense.

Patrick Pietropaolo, 62, of Newark, was arrested for the attack on Thursday, a New Jersey Transit Police spokeswoman said. He was charged with simple assault, bias intimidation, theft of service (for not paying the train fare) and resisting arrest. He was taken to the Essex County Jail, where bail was set at $15,000.

Sara Ebrahim, left, and Yasmeen Alsaker say a man spat and cursed at them for being Muslim aboard a New Jersey train on Thursday March 3, 2016.
Sara Ebrahim, left, and Yasmeen Alsaker say a man spat and cursed at them for being Muslim aboard a New Jersey train on Thursday March 3, 2016.
Courtesy Sara Ebrahim and Yasmeen Alsaker

Three Muslim students -- 21-year-old Yasmeen Alsaker, 21-year-old Sara Ebrahim and 25-year-old Tania Khaliq -- were all wearing hijabs while riding the Newark Light Rail when they say the incident occurred. They say Pietropaolo shouted several obscene slurs at them, a number of which appear below.

"Funny story happened today," Alsaker wrote Thursday in a Facebook post. "I finished school and took the lightrail to get to [Newark] penn station with my two Muslim hijaby friends. We sat down, a man was sitting behind us. He started cursing us out. My friend turned around to see whats going on, and then turned back. The man stood up and said: why are you staring at me ha? Why are you staring at me you F***ing muslim B**ch, and then he spit on her."

She added that "no one in the light rail said anything."

Pietropaolo allegedly called Ebrahim a "fucking Muslim bitch." She recalled that he also used the words "motherfucker" and "cunt."

"I didn't stop staring at him," she said. "We thought he was going to really going to attack us."

A light rail car in Newark, N.J.
A light rail car in Newark, N.J.

Alsaker and Khaliq pushed Ebrahim to the front of the train, she said, and they opened the door to the train's operator so they could alert him to Pietrpaolo's behavior. However, the train operator closed the door on them, the women said. Ebrahim said she later realized it's probably illegal to open that door.

"I was in a bad state," Ebrahim said. "I was crying."

The operator called for assistance from the New Jersey Transit Police Department, according to the police spokeswoman. When the train arrived at Newark Penn Station, Pietropaolo "exited the Light Rail Vehicle, and the New Jersey Transit Police Department gave chase on foot for a short distance" until he was apprehended.

"They really were treating us so good," Ebrahim said of the officers, who took the women to the police station to file a report. "They calmed us down."

Ebrahim said police told the women that cameras on the light rail probably captured audio from the incident. She said they also her Pietropaolo was likely "mentally unstable." However, Ebrahim said she believes he meant what he said on the train.

Pietropaolo's arrest comes amidst a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric and anti-Muslim hate crimes across the country.

He couldn't be reached for comment on this story. It is unclear if he has a lawyer.

Alsaker wrote in her Facebook post that she worries about where the U.S. is heading, especially when the front-runner in the Republican primary has proposed banning Muslims from entering the country.

"I was sitting in the police station and just thinking that this is just the beginning of something horrible," she wrote. "If Donald Trump wins, this will basically become legal, people today saw us going through this and did NOTHING, the man literally stood up and spit, like WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU WAITING FOR!"

Ebrahim is a U.S. citizen who was born in Egypt. She said she can understand why no one intervened on the train. After all, they couldn't have known if Pietropaolo was armed or would grow violent.

However, the incident has left her shaken.

"I'm feeling awful," she said, noting that she started "crying out of the blue" during a tutoring session on Friday.

"I'm used to people looking at me on the street," Ebrahim said, referring to what it can be like to walk around while wearing a hijab. "But I don't want to get used to people attacking me."

"I feel in this country, I'm odd," she continued. "People look at us as if we are aliens. I feel like I don't belong here. Sometimes I don't wanna be here... I'm tired of being odd."

Ebrahim cried while explaining that many of her Muslim friends were too frightened to continue wearing the hijab after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November.

"I am tired of the hypocrisy," she added, explaining that you can't say the U.S. has freedom while "telling me to dress a certain way."

"You can't come and judge me," she said. "If I respect you, you have to respect me."

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