Opinion: Questioning the NYPD’s Use of ‘Entrapment’ Methods
Last October, a Bangladeshi was arrested by the NYPD and the FBI for allegedly attempting to blow up the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, 21, was also charged with attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida. He faces life in prison if convicted. Nafis’ arrest shocked the New York-based Bangladeshi community and raised concerns that he was framed. Below is a translated and edited opinion column on the subject written by Kazi Fauzia in the Bangladeshi weekly Thikana. Fauzia also cites the case of police informant Samiur Rahman, 19, an American of Bangladeshi descent who denounced a practice referred to as “create and capture,” in which the NYPD sends informants to Muslim neighborhoods.
The day is vivid in my memory – it was my organization DRUM’s 12th anniversary and we were working day and night preparing the celebration. Our pledge is to promote Black & Brown unity and fight against racism.
As I was calling members asking them to join the celebration, Rukhsana, our youth organizer, urged me to stop. “Something awful has happened, please come and watch,” she said. The television was flashing the news of the arrest of a Bangladeshi student, Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, accused of trying to to blow up the New York Federal Reserve building with a 1,000 lbs. bomb. I was stunned; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I wanted to laugh at how the law enforcement agencies were again fooling the general public, and I wanted to cry for that poor kid. I was thinking of my own son.
I soon started to reach out to the Bangladeshi community to inform them about the event and the larger issue at hand. I spoke to community journalists and asked them not to be confused. Similar incidences have happened before, and blacks, Latinos, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Iranians, Palestinians, Algerians, Afghans, Indians, Bangladeshis all are serving jail terms in cooked-up cases. I advised them to refrain from reporting irresponsibly.
“The community is under duress,” I said, “and this is not the first time that someone has been entrapped by the police-FBI. Your reaction would determine the fate of not just Nafis, but also many more in the future.” To spread the word about individuals’ civil rights, DRUM’s volunteers distributed the booklets “Know your rights” among community members in Jamaica, Queens.
There were mixed reactions in the community. Some called Nafis names, and some were questioning the law-enforcement methods. And then there were those who, out of fear, had stopped talking in the streets, or on buses or trains. Even the mainstream media raised questions on the law-enforcement methods. The use of “entrapment” methods to catch terrorists and its dubious efficacy.
I was trying to make people understand that, in the aftermath of 9/11, it is not just Muslims in the U.S. who are being discriminated against. Along with them are also blacks, Hispanics and other minorities. We as Bangladeshis should view the “war on terror” in a larger context. We should unite and fight against this morphed continuum of discrimination. If we view ourselves as separate, we will continue to be estranged and isolated.
One morning, as I went for a cup of tea at Kabir Bakery, a popular hangout for Bangladeshis in Jackson Heights, I overheard a Bangladeshi lady complaining to the bakery clerk: ‘”Brother Babu, our self-esteem has been maligned, it’s all finished. Somebody should shoot that Nafis.” I got upset, and said: “Hello, why are you asking to kill that boy and are not also upset with the people who targeted him for six month to a year to set up the case.” I went on to say, “if this was your son, would you have asked him to be killed?” The lady gave me an angry look and left without speaking.
The other day, I heard that an organization called Bangladesh League of America was planning to publicly condemn Nafis. I urged BLA officials, journalists and community leaders to refrain form such action, noting that this is a time for observation, to see how the events unfold, and that we need to tread carefully. There will be time to make statements later, I added, but they went ahead with the statements. The BBC picked them up and the whole world learned through its own community how a stupid boy named Nafis maligned the reputation of hard-working Bangladeshis.
These things have kept me upset and busy these days. I have been doing press conferences at City Hall, and participating in rallies at One Police Plaza to make people aware as to how the FBI and the NYPD have deployed spies in our mosques and shops – everyone of us is a target. But unfortunately I have not yet seen a single “noble Bengali” or their community leader come out and protest such actions. A whole community has been branded and is being spied upon as terrorist. This is not only a violation of their human rights, but also tantamount to foot-squashing their self-respect. Yet I haven’t heard anyone stand up to defend the community’s honor. Some in the Bangladeshi community are asking for Nafis’ punishment even before his formal trial or conviction, whereas not a single person or entity have cared to protest these NYPD-FBI staged entrapment schemes.
I would like to ask those “noble Bangalis” giving such statements why their honor and self-respect is not ruined when Bangladesh becomes the most corrupt country in the world, and when your country’s prime minister dishonestly forces World Bank to pull out of the much-longed Padma river bridge project. Why then you not call the BBC and make statements?
I would say to such members of the community: Become as ideal and noble Bengali-American as possible. Feel free to use plastic surgery to become white and discard the brown identity completely, if needed. Or if you claim yourself to be a devout Muslim, a good Bengali, and a good Bangladeshi wanting to live in peace and doing your fair share of civic responsibilities, then why it does not become incumbent on your moral sense to equally protest as Samiur Rahman, a 19-year-old unmasks the NYPD detectives’ xenophobic, illegal activities against your community. Is it because Samiur represents an American, as you envision yourself, and Nafis is a Bangladeshi with a student visa?
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly visited Queens’ Jamaica Muslim Center a few days ago to attend a community forum in the aftermath of the incident. During the question-answer session I asked him: “Now that your informant Samiur has exposed the NYPD’s tactics of targeting the whole Muslim community by planting informants and undercover cops for the last two years, what do you have to say?” ”I did not understand the question” was his response. In the forum some community members asked for police presence outside the Jamaica Muslim Center. Some demanded speed-breakers outside the Islamic center. Another one asked “for how many years will Nafis be imprisoned.”
Many in our community forget that the police commissioner can punish no one – courts decide the extent of the punishment and where a prisoner would be sent. Speed breakers are the responsibilities of the city, not the police commissioner. For how long we Bangladeshis will stay self-centered and ignorant? Such questions expose our ignorance to people like Kelly. There was not a single person in the Jamaica Muslim Center that day who could ask the commissioner a difficult question, or two!
We are fighting for both Samiur and Nafis. Both are victims of the same system. Our fight is against the system that plots, prods even provokes Samiur to be an informer and Nafis to be a “terrorist.” In this country, all those Muslims, non-Muslims, blacks and browns who are imprisoned by such framed cases are our brothers and sisters, or at least members of the same besieged community. We will all have to fight for justice together. One’s particular language, culture, country or religion does not have to be an impediment. On the contrary, the differences inspire one to become more conscious of the rights of others.