Spying on Muslims in New York: Huge coalition calls for federal investigation

Spying on Muslims in New York: Huge coalition calls for federal investigation
Over 100 organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and dozens of diverse religious and community groups are calling on the New York Police Department to stop spying on the area’s Muslim population.

The ACLU is leading the campaign to curb the expansive New York City surveillance program after a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles penned by investigative reporters at the Associated Press have in recent years exposed evidence that NYC police administer a number of initiatives directed squarely on Muslims.

Throughout the course of its investigation, the AP found evidence that NYPD officers have routinely monitored Muslims across the region, often solely based on their particular place of worship or where they do business.

The NYPD has defended the previously top-secret surveillance program and calls it an imperative counterterrorism instrument, but 125 groups now argue otherwise in a letter to the Department of Justice.

This surveillance is based on the false and unconstitutional premise, reflected in the NYPD’s published ‘radicalization’ theory, that Muslim religious belief, practices and community engagement are grounds for law enforcement scrutiny,” the letter attests. “That is a premise rooted in ignorance and bias: it is wrong and unfairly stigmatizes Muslims, who are a law-abiding, diverse and integral part of our nation and New York City.”

Unsurprisingly, the NYPD’s surveillance program has had far-reaching, deeply negative effects on Muslims’ constitutional rights by chilling speech and religious practice and harming religious goals and missions,” the signees claim. “It has frayed the social fabric of Muslim communities by breeding anxiety, distrust, and fear. The NYPD’s biased policing practices hurt not only Muslims, but all communities who rightfully expect that law enforcement will serve and protect America’s diverse population equally, without discrimination.”

Those among the list of signees — a roster including names that range from organization such as Blacks in law Enforcement of America and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the NAACP — urge the civil rights division of the DoJ to promptly investigation the agency’s “unconstitutional program of religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims.”

Citing evidence from the AP’s report, the letter insists that the NYPD’s discriminatory surveillance practices have allowed for “the names of thousands of innocent Muslims in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania have been placed in secret police files, absent evidence that they engaged in criminal activity.”

Under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,” the letter claims, “the United States Attorney General is authorized to conduct investigations concerning ‘a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives persons of rights, privileges or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.’”

According to the signees, the AP’s investigation and other evidence of the NYPD’s programs warrant a federal investigation.

As RT reported previously, leaked documents and witness interviews received by AP journalists have unveiled an elaborate operation spearheaded by the NYPD’s so-called Demographics Unit, an inner-agency group with ties to the Central Intelligence Agency that has put plainclothes cops in mosques, Islamic centers and other Muslim-majority businesses and locales throughout the New York City region for ages.

"As the world gets more dangerous, people are willing to have infringements on their personal freedoms that they would not before,” New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told the AP in the midst of their investigation. “We live in a dangerous world, and we have to be very proactive in making sure that we prevent terrorism,"he said.

The ACLU and others have already filed suit against the NYPD, but this week’s letter urges the nation’s top law enforcement unit — the Justice Department — to put the Big Apple officer’s actions under a federal microscope.

According to the letter, “the NYPD’s own documents show that the Department has engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminatory surveillance in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the First Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion and guarantee of neutrality toward all religions.”

On the city’s part, attorneys representing New York in the previously-filed ACLU suit allege that law enforcement did not target mosques and other locales “simply because the attendees were Muslim,” but rather because “the NYPD followed leads suggesting that certain individuals in certain mosques may be engaging in criminal and possibly terrorist activity.”