Civil Rights Lawyers Ask Court to Stop NYPD Surveillance of Muslims

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Several high-profile civil rights lawyers in New York City are urging the court to halt the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims, Desi Talk reports.

According to the article by Ela Dutt, the five attorneys who signed on to the case have called for appointing an auditor to oversee the department’s activities in this area.

The brief, signed by attorney Paul Chevigny, a law professor at New York University, was filed Feb. 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. It argues that the NYPD surveillance is illegal as it violates a 1985 court decree limiting police intelligence gathering.

The Handschu guidelines issued in 1985 prescribe that the police cannot monitor political activities unless there is a crime involved. “But they have infiltrated every organization or institution which has any connection to Muslims,” Chevigny said.

“It is basically not a Muslim issue. It is a civil rights issue,” he told Desi Talk. “It started 40 years ago when the world was different and political activities were different.”

According to the article, the brief relies primarily on NYPD documents. No Muslim lawyers are involved in the filing though there is some input from Muslims who have given statements about the surveillance. The brief argues that the NYPD has been violating the guidelines systematically at least since 2006.

The article goes on to say that the Associated Press has recently reported on the NYPD’s program, detailing the movements and communications among Muslim students and of people attending mosques and visiting stores, as well as activities of Muslim organizations, despite no suspicion of political or criminal activity.

“There is substantial persuasive evidence that the defendants are conducting investigations into organizations and individuals associated with the Muslim faith and the Muslim community in New York, and have been doing so for years, using intrusive methods, without a reasonable indication of unlawful activity, or a criminal predicate of any sort,” the motion said.  The case is filed specifically against the NYPD’s Special Services Division, Bureau of Special Services and “various unknown employees of the Police Department acting as undercover operators and informers” the motion said.

In the past, the NYPD has argued that just to be a member of some Muslim sects, such as the Salafists, implicates a person, but Chevigny pointed out, “We say that’s guilt by association.”

The four other attorneys signing the brief are Jethrow Eisenstein; Arthur Isenberg, legal director at the New York Civil Liberties Union; Martin Stoler and Franklin Siegel.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in a statement: “The NYPD adheres to the Constitution in all it does, and specifically the Handschu guidelines in the deployment of undercover officers to help thwart plots against New York City and to identify individuals engaged in support of terrorism. Since the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, terrorists have tried to attack New York City on 16 different occasions that we know of, including plots to attack everything from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Federal Reserve Bank and to kill American soldiers returning home to New York.”

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