New York Muslims protest police surveillance
A new report by a coalition of Muslims has shed further light on the NYPD’s controversial surveillance program of the Muslim community, which they say generates widespread fear and has a “chilling effect” on their lives.
The New York Police Department has been found to spy on Muslims in mosques, restaurants, halal shops, cafes, hookah bars and other public places and has long outraged potential victims of the surveillance. Whether praying, conversing with friends, or walking down the street, the NYPD deploys cops that are always watching.
The surveillance “has stifled speech, communal life and religious practice and criminalized a broad segment of American Muslims,” Nermeen Arastu, fund attorney for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the Wall Street Journal.
The new report, compiled by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and its partners, specifically outlines the effect of the NYPD’s intimidation on New York City Muslims. As a result of sending spies throughout the city, some Muslims have stopped trusting anyone, fearful that something they say or do could land them in prison.
“Undercover Pakistani officers were sent into Pakistani communities and Arab-speaking officers were dispatched into the Egyptian community to ‘listen to neighborhood gossip’, and get an overall ‘feel for the community,’ " the report says “They were instructed to visit schools and interact with business owners and patrons to ‘gauge sentiment.’”
By participating in school field trips and local cricket matches, undercover cops have crept into the personal lives of American Muslims, searching for any sign of illegal or terrorist intentions. The report, titled “Mapping Muslims”, claims that the far-reaching extent of the surveillance program has taken a toll on the Muslim community.
“[The NYPD] has repeatedly said that as long as you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” Diala Shamas, co-author of the report, told the Huffington Post. Instead, she said the study “shows that there are many disturbing impacts and consequences of the irresponsible, costly, harmful, completely ineffective surveillance program.”
Muslim college groups now forbid any discussion of politics, practicing Muslims have avoided mosques, and others have simply avoided making any sort of jokes that could be misinterpreted.
“People tell me ‘I’ll make mysalaah[prayer] at home.’ They mention the NYPD camera right outside the mosque as the reason,” Imam Mustapha, a Brooklyn-based religious leader, told authors of the report.
At some mosques, Muslims no longer trust religious leaders, fearing that they could be reporting to the NYPD.
“The relationship of trust and confidentiality between an imam and his congregation is no less sacred than that of pastors, rabbis and others, and those of whom they serve,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, Maklis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council) of Metropolitan New York. “The actions of the NYPD have compromised this sacred relationship… It not only weakens the capacity of some Muslim religious leaders to serve as advisors in sensitive matters, but it also compromises their effectiveness as partners in the struggle against extremism.”
New York City Muslims are afraid of growing beards, wearing traditional attire, participating in extracurricular activities, or talking to strangers.
The authors conclude the report with a plea to stop the pervasive program, claiming that the policing encourages deep-seated mistrust and distrust within the Muslim community.
“There’s a lot of collateral damage,” Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander told the Huffington Post.
The NYPD has so far spent more than $1 billion on the Intelligence Division, which conducts the surveillance program. But throughout six years of surveillance, the NYPD has never generated a lead, according to Assistant Chief Thomas Galati.
“I never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report, and I’m here since 2006,” Galati said in a deposition last June. “I don’t recall other ones prior to my arrival.”