“Rules are meant to be broken.” I cannot find the origin of that statement. But, whomever it was, they were right. In today’s world, I could probably just emphatically say that I came up with the phrase. But I won’t.

During the daily routine of finding, creating and publishing news for our readers, it’s rare that I get truly ticked off by a story. And on May 12, I did. I had to really stop and process what I was reading and watching on Facebook.

That day, our reporter, Peter Strozniak, filed a story concerning alleged discrimination practices at a credit union. For contextual purposes, Peter gave us a heads-up about the story but we were so busy doing our jobs that the gravity of what happened didn’t sink in until he submitted the piece.

I’m talking about the story of Sound Credit Union and its policy against members wearing hats, hoods and sunglasses while in the branch; and, apparently, enforcing that policy not on the white men wearing baseball caps, but on a teenage Muslim.

According to the news account, Jamela Mohamed walked into a Sound Credit Union branch in Kent, Wash., on May 5 wearing a hood because she was observing Jummah, which is a prayer Muslims hold each Friday. A teller then asked her to remove the hood because of the “no hood” policy.

Mohamed complied and went back to her car to put on her hijab. It appeared she realized something was fishy about this because she witnessed two men wearing baseball caps being served by tellers. Mohamed had the teenage-foresight to grab her smartphone and start recording a video once she put on her hijab out in her car. From that moment … things were just wrong and out-of-hand.

I watched the video she posted on her Facebook page several times before I published the story online because, from what Strozniak wrote, I really needed to see it to believe it. And there it was.

“If you don’t take your hood off, I’m calling 9-1-1,” a Sound Credit Union staff member forcefully stated while being recorded. If you watch and listen to the video, you can hear Mohamed ask, “Can I go ahead and get my money back?” The staff member ignores the question and begins counting to three like an elementary school teacher trying to get her class to behave or there will be no recess.

The staff member then counts to three, slaps the teller counter and rushes back behind a desk and picks up a phone to presumably call the cops.

I’m going to stop my narration of the video here except to say that the video ends with Mohamed in her car sobbing after the staff member had followed her outside.

Personally, I wish the staff member would have called the police because I’d like to hear what she would have said to the 9-1-1 dispatcher: “Hello? I’d like to report a woman wearing a hijab. Come quick!” Or “Please hurry … there’s a non-white person here and it’s freaking me out.”

I’m blunt for two reasons:

  1. This policy is ridiculous.
  2. These actions are sad and embarrassing.

 

Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Abercrombie & Fitch stores’ dress-code policy that prohibited female Muslim employees from wearing a hijab. While that ruling involved an internal policy that was just as insensitive and then deemed illegal, this policy is just as stupid.

I get the logic behind it – it’s for the protection of the members and to hopefully deter any criminal activity. But, as you see in the video, it’s not enforced equally. It’s enforced when someone who works at the credit union feels threatened. In this case, that threat was a hijab-wearing teenage girl who wanted to get money from her account.

I would argue and guess that this policy was put in place without any training behind it. And, from what we’ve reported, this probably isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It’s just the first time it was recorded.

Strozniak followed up on the story and discovered that the staff member on the video is “no longer working” at the credit union. We don’t know the specifics yet – if she left on her own, was fired or if there was a separation agreement between the credit union and the former employee.

I ultimately felt some empathy for that former employee. Maybe she just had a bad day? Maybe THIS was the moment she was finally going to enforce what that sign states that’s stuck to the teller counter? Maybe she was honestly scared for the safety of the credit union employees? So I watched the video again for a fourth time and could see the anger that built up rather quickly by this one employee while other tellers were awkwardly sitting there not knowing what to do.

My empathy faded.

I’m sure Sound Credit Union is a solid organization that simply got caught up in a really insensitive moment. The leadership there can truly learn a lot of lessons from this event: Fix or get rid of the policy. Or, at the very least, bring in some outside council to give sensitivity training to the staff and learn how this policy applies to people with different religions and backgrounds. Also, you could fix your social media strategy to stay on top of what’s happening in your own credit union. Your silence at times, statements and deleted statements on Facebook did not help.

Mohamed’s Facebook video was shared more than 8,500 times and viewed more than 930,000 times by people in your community and around the world. 

This policy is insensitive.

If there was a rule to be broken – I pick this one to break.

Michael Ogden is executive editor for CU Times. He can be reached at mogden@cutimes.com.