Calls for Formal Investigation of NYPD Muslim Surveillance

Community and religious organizations call for Justice Department to investigate NYPD surveillance programs. (Photo by PaulSteinJC/Flickr.)

Community and religious organizations are calling on the Justice Department to investigate NYPD surveillance programs. (Photo by PaulSteinJC, Creative Commons license)

On October 24, an alliance of more than 120 civil rights, religious and community organizations called on the Justice Department to open a formal investigation into the NYPD’s controversial surveillance programs of the city’s Muslim population.

“As shown by the NYPD’s own documents, for over a decade, the Department has engaged in unlawful religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims in New York City (and beyond),” the letter sent to the Justice Department reads. “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.

Organizers argue that 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.”

The NYPD’s questionable surveillance tactics came to light through a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles that the Associated Press began publishing in August 2012.

Earlier this week, AP journalist Adam Goldman spoke about his reporting on the issue at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Reporter Ali Harb of the covered the event.

Goldman [said] that when the AP first published the story about spying on Muslims, the NYPD and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied the report and labeled it as “fiction.”

“We were on the defensive,” said Goldman. “Then people started leaking documents to us.”

Goldman described what kind of information the NYPD hoped to gain.

The NYPD wanted to know the sentiments and views of Muslims on current events.

“They would send informants to mosques and hookah lounges after drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and if people were just discussing what happened, they would be red-flagged,” he said.

According to Goldman, Muslims were being “red-flagged” for discussing politics, changing their names, or even speaking Urdu, the native language of thousands of immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Those organizations calling on the Justice Department to open a formal investigation said in their letter that aggressive surveillance tactics like these “frayed the social fabric of Muslim communities by breeding anxiety, distrust, and fear.” But beyond this stress, according to Goldman, NYPD surveillance of Muslims also proved futile.

“The NYPD surveillance did not generate a single terrorism lead and totally missed real terrorism suspects, like Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American from Aurora, Colorado, who came close to blowing up a New York City subway in 2009.

Zazi had gone to Pakistan to participate in the insurgency against American troops in Afghanistan, but al-Qaeda operatives convinced him, along with two others, to carry out a suicide attack in New York City.

“The NYPD missed these guys on every level,” Goldman said.

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