Muslim mother claims she was verbally harassed, spat at by man in Burlingame

A Muslim mother in Burlingame was allegedly accosted by a man who spat at her as she walked to pick up her children from school on Tuesday, police said.

According to Burlingame Police Department, the unidentified man had his face concealed with a white shirt and told the 35-year-old woman, who was wearing a hijab, to "go home."

The man made several attempts to spit at her through the shirt covering his face, although no fluids actually reached the woman, said police.

The woman speaks limited English and asked to have her name withheld. She said she did not engage with the man and continued her walk to the school to pick up her children. Once she arrived, she informed school officials about the incident, who in turn contacted police.


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The police department said the incident is being investigated as a civil rights violation.

"Very concerning, especially with today’s climate. We take everything seriously. We want our citizens and anyone who comes into the Burlingame community, to feel safe," said Burlingame Police Lt. Laura Terada.

At a press conference on Wednesday, the woman shared her account through a translator. She stated that the man, walking in the opposite direction, initially held the shirt in his hand. It wasn't until he noticed her hijab that he covered his face with the shirt and approached her.

"Spat on her and was calling her derogatory names and was telling her to go back to where she came from," the woman said through her translator, Raed Atawaneh.

While police mentioned that the man made repeated attempts to spit at her, the woman emphasized that he did indeed spit directly on her.

She explained she was too fearful to pull out her phone to call police or snap a photo of the man.

"She was afraid that he would pull something, an object, something that he might be able to hurt her with," Atawaneh relayed on her behalf.

She shared that she left her native country of Jordan several months ago and came to the U.S. seeking safety for herself and her children.

Following Tuesday's ordeal, she expressed doubts about the level of safety she can expect.

"She feels that she is not safe, at all. Not just for her safety, but her kids safety. For her family’s safety," said Atawaneh.

She mentioned that she had followed the same daily route to pick up her children, without any prior encounters of this nature, at least until Tuesday.

She is aware of the current political and cultural climate. She believes that she was targeted because of her religious identity, which was apparent because of the hijab she wore.

Representatives with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said their community has seen a spike in hate crimes since the Israel-Hamas war started in October.

"I am not surprised. I’m disappointed but I’m not surprised. We had a complaint about an assault in Monterey on Friday," said Zahra Billoo, the executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area CAIR office. "For days now, my community has been telling me that they are anxious and fearful. This is why."

Billoo continued, "It should be no surprise to anyone that the violence has come home to our own communities."

Editor's Note: In a previous version of this story, it was mentioned that the Burlingame Police Department had found no evidence of a crime. However, the police department did classify the incident as a crime and is actively investigating the case as a civil rights violation.