Another Red Scare? Court reopens case against NYPD for surveillance of Muslims

© Eduardo Munoz
A federal appeals court has reopened a lawsuit against New York police that accused law enforcement of discriminating against Muslims in its use of surveillance, comparing the treatment to that of Jewish Americans during the Red Scare.

Writing for a three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Judge Thomas Ambro said that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit did have the standing to sue the New York Police Department. The plaintiffs have accused the NYPD of violating the Constitution by targeting Muslims in New Jersey for extensive surveillance in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Ambro wrote that the allegations against the NYPD “tell a story in which there is standing to complain and which present constitutional concerns that must be addressed and, if true, redressed.”

The ruling reverses a previous decision from last year regarding Hassan v. City of New York, one that stated none of the 11 plaintiffs were harmed by the NYPD’s spy operation, and that they were not aware of the situation until the Associated Press broke the news in an expose. The court also found that the NYPD’s surveillance effort following 9/11 was justified.

In his ruling, Ambro linked the surveillance of Muslims to the experiences of other minority groups in American history, saying the plaintiffs “plausibly” argued that the NYPD intentionally discriminated against them. He highlighted the treatment of Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, among others.

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“We have been down similar roads before,” he wrote. “Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II are examples that readily spring to mind. We are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight – that ‘[l]oyalty is a matter of the heart and mind[,] not race, creed, or color.’”

The plaintiffs claimed that police used video surveillance, photographs, infiltration and more to spy on some 20 mosques, more than a dozen restaurants, 11 stores, two schools and two Muslim student associations in New Jersey. They alleged that their lawsuit seeks “to affirm the principle that individuals may not be singled out for intrusive investigation and pervasive surveillance that cause them continuing harm simply because they profess a certain faith.”

For its part, New York City officials have not commented on their next step, the Hill reported. They could potentially appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Previously, the city’s lawyer argued that there was no policy specifically targeting Muslims. The NYPD, meanwhile, said it had disbanded the program.

“This case at its heart involves surveillance of public space and public activity,” Peter Farrell told the panel. “Surveillance of public activity does not prohibit, compel anyone to do anything. This is not a case that involves a stop, a search, a detention or an arrest.”