Cambridge gathering supports student under attack for her religious observance

By Debra Messick
Posted 5/10/24

On the grassy lot corner of Washington Street and Greenwood, a mural emblazoned with the word BELIEVE had been brightly painted several years back. On May 6, a gathering in support of a student under attack for her religious observance seemed to give it renewed community meaning.

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Cambridge gathering supports student under attack for her religious observance


CAMBRIDGE - On the grassy lot corner of Washington Street and Greenwood, a mural emblazoned with the word BELIEVE had been brightly painted several years back.

On May 6, a gathering in support of a student under attack for her religious observance seemed to give it renewed community meaning.

On that day, several visitors, swathed from head to toe in coverings of white or black, stood before the mural, cooking hot dogs and hamburgers under a sweltering sun.

Members of the Islamic community faithful from Baltimore and Philadelphia, they had taken a leap of faith to travel here on a mission of support for a young member under attack, and to spread awareness of their faith.

Along with the food and water they provided to those from the community, stopping by the visitors also offered up equal portions of hope, understanding, and healing.

They’d been summoned by neighborhood resident Latoya Gibbs, whose 12-year-old daughter Tori, had been harassed, bullied, and taunted for wearing a hijab, the neck and head covering worn traditionally worn by Islamic women.

On March 26, Tori, a Maces Lane student, was followed home from her school bus stop by a group of youngsters, then physically attacked by first one and then another classmate, her hijab grabbed from her head, in her front yard.

Other youngsters stood by some even smiling as they held up phones to video the attack. 

Tori’s older sister Brianna ran out to pull the attacker off Tori, but that only stopped the fight momentarily, as the girl who had ripped Tori’s hijab off came at her from behind, yanking her exposed hair, video of the incident showed.

Later, as Tori walked to her grandmother’s house nearby, the attacker appeared, this time with her father egging her on to continue the physical attack. Her older sister was also present, and one of the youngsters recording the incident later shared it with Maces Lane Middle School Principal Patricia Prosser, who  then supplied it to the school's police resource officer, according to Gibbs.

He alerted the Cambridge Police Department, which did a thorough investigation, and brought charges against the main attacker's father, according to CPD Chief Justin Todd, adding that pending charges against the daughter have been sent to the State’s Attorney’s office for review, due to the girl’s age.

“Maryland Senate Bill 691 adopted in 2022, prohibits anyone under the age of 13 from being charged, unless they have committed felony crimes such as 1st degree assault, rape, and homicide,” Todd said.

First degree assault usually involves use of a deadly weapon or harm, while second degree assault involves physically pushing someone,” he said.

On May 1, the biggest crowd yet of youngsters followed Tori home from the bus stop and remained on the sidewalk in front of her house, taunting her to come out and fight.

Gibbs, feeling unable to protect her daughter, emotionally or physically, reached out to the Islamic communities of mosques the family follows in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Viewing the videos of Tori being attacked, they responded right away, arranging carpools to drive to Cambridge, and coordinating a meeting with Interim Superintendent Thompson.

They also quickly coordinated the community cookout in support of Tori, one they hoped would also offer awareness and outreach about the Muslim community.

Among 16 of those who had traveled by car from Philadelphia was Anwar Wright, who has been an Islamic chaplain with the New Jersey Department of Corrections for 14 years.

Wright’s father had accepted Islam as a correctional system inmate, and he and his sister were raised in the faith, Wight said.

He felt called by the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed to come and support Sister Torie Gibbs, he said. In so doing, he spoke with the parents of her attackers and mediated a public handshake between Torie and her primary attacker.

Near a canopy containing banners bearing proclamations against any form of terrorism, and the names of Abraham, Noah, and Jesus along with the Prophet Mohammed, Solomons wisdom also seemed to lurk.

Despite the day’s boiling temperatures, by day’s end, cooler heads had prevailed through direct mediation.

Tori’s main attacker and one who had helped her, plus their parents, were invited to the event and not only showed up, but several apologized.

One youngster shook hands with Tori, while the other girl apologized and hugged her, Gibbs said.

Both dads and a mom were there, one of the dads spending the entire day, as well as coming to Gibbs’ home. By day's end, both fathers had accepted Islam.

“I never knew this was going to be the outcome,” Gibbs said, adding that she hopes that the kids now understand why what they did was wrong, and why disrespecting her daughter’s Islamic head garb was so hurtful.

Gibbs commended Cambridge City Council President Lajan Cephas.

“Once she heard about it, she was a big help in spreading the word,” Gibbs said.

She also believes that, regarding the issue of the schools proactively addressing bullying, that Interim Superintendent Thompson is “trying to be a man of his word.”

Following the meeting on May 6, Dorchester County Public Schools issued the following statement:

“Today, Dorchester County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Jymil Thompson and Mace’s Lane Middle School Principal Ms. Patricia Prosser met with a Maces Lane Middle School student, her mother, and a group of representatives from Masjid Ad-Da’wah Ilat Tawhid, a Baltimore-based Islamic Mosque led by their Imam, Raja Batts, regarding anti-Islamic bullying of the student.

“It was a very constructive meeting,” said Dr. Thompson. “The family was heard, and we take their concerns seriously.

Dr. Thompson also said he believes better communication with and between families could help resolve conflicts, as well as better communication between school and home.

“The school and community need to work together to prevent small issues becoming big,” he said, agreeing with the Imam 's suggestion that they work together on a program of bullying awareness for schools.

“It is sensible to use school, where the community’s youngsters come together, to further education against bullying. I look forward to working with the Imam on this project,” Thompson said.

Gibbs added that the goal was to keep all kids safe from bullying of any kind, not just anti-Muslim, adding that her neighbor’s youngsters had also experienced bullying.

Several of the visiting Islamic communities’ female members praised Tori’s courage and commitment to her beliefs throughout the ordeal.

She's grateful to the outpouring of support from their Salfi Muslim community, and  many others from the general community, including State Senator Johnny Mautz, who reached out to her on Friday, May 10.

Gibbs hopes that one day, her daughter will be able to share her story to be able to help others.

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