NYPD Surveillance Has Lingering Impact on Muslims, Report Finds

Soheeb Amin’s Muslim student group and mosque were under NYPD surveillance. He speaks at a March 11 press conference, later telling Colorlines, “From my own experience, it ruins your life to be suspicious of everyone around you.” (Photo by Seth Freed Wessler/Colorlines)

For Muslim New Yorkers, the NYPD surveillance program has left their lives consumed with apprehension and paranoia. That was the consensus of “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims,” a report put together by three civil liberty advocacy groups that examined how the program affected the everyday lives of Muslims from students to business owners to worshippers.

Colorlines‘ Seth Freed Wessler attended a press conference on March 11 at One Police Plaza where advocates relayed findings from the report, which comes a year and a half after The Associated Press uncovered the surveillance tactics of the NYPD.

The report, which includes input from 57 members of the community, indicates, as Wessler puts it, “a fear of police and city officials that permeated nearly every aspect of their daily lives.” The Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a project from the City University of New York, known as Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR), put together the report, which they planned to give to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly after the press conference.

Colorlines spoke to attendees, who gave additional accounts of how the surveillance program continues to permeate their lives.

Soheed Amin talked about how the police infiltrated his student group and the lasting impact the surveillance has had on him.

Soheed Amin, who recently graduated from Brooklyn College where he was president of the Muslim Student Association, said after yesterday’s press conference that at least one police informant had joined his student group and another infiltrated his mosque. Now the 22-year-old expects informants to be everywhere, all the time. “From my own experience, it ruins your life to be suspicious of everyone around you.”

Details from the report itself point to how the program has left worshippers in fear.

Interview subjects also said the spying interfered with their ability to worship. Out of fear, some parents told their children not to wear Muslim garb in public. Others said they’ve stopped going to their mosque or quickly leave after services because they don’t trust the person praying beside them. “Attendance at a mosque,” the report notes, “has become tantamount to placing oneself on law enforcement’s radar.”

Beyond the surveillance program, there’s the other controversial police tactic: using informants to encourage subjects to carry out a terrorist plot.

Jawad Rasul, a 25-year-old Brooklyn College student who I interviewed shortly after the AP story broke, found his name listed in NYPD documents that the AP uncovered. From those records, Rasul discovered that an undercover police officer had accompanied him and 17 others on a rafting trip sponsored by the Muslim Student Association. It was not the first time he’d been targeted. Several years earlier, Rasul says another officer befriended him and then attempted to push him into participating in a terrorist plot.

Wessler uses the example of Ahmed Ferhani, who plotted to attack a synagogue. According to Wessler, facts from the case “indicate that the plot didn’t precede his contact with the informant and wouldn’t have materialized if he’d been left alone.” The FBI chose not to be involved in the investigation.

Speaking out against such tactics, civil rights and legal groups will not let these actions get swept under the rug.

The practices have not gone unchecked. The three civil rights groups behind “Mapping Muslims” have united with other organizations including Communities United for Police Reform in a call for police accountability and a rollback of the city’s controversial stop-and-frisk program.

Legal challenges are also underway. A group of attorneys have challenged the NYPD’s tactics under the so-called Handschu rules, a consent decree from the 1980s that bars the police from keeping records they’ve gleaned from surveilling legal activities. Meanwhile, several civil rights and civil liberties groups including Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights have filed a suit on behalf of several New Jersey residents alleging that police spying violated their constitutional rights. That suit is pending.

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