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New Report, Book Reveal Depths of NYPD Spying on Muslims

Kalia Abiade • Sep 10, 2013


In the midst of intense scrutiny of the New York Police Department’s racial and religious profiling policies, a group of Muslim youths say they were beaten by NYPD officers late last month in a Bronx park.

Two sisters, ages 12 and 14, told the New York Daily News that they were playing in the park the night of August 26 when NYPD officers told them to leave because the park was closed. The girls, who are Muslim, said that as they left, the officers followed them, threw them to the ground and ripped off their headscarves.

The girls’ 15-year-old brother said that when he tried to help, the officers slammed him to the ground as well. A college student nearby said he heard the screams and ran toward the group. He took out his cell phone to record the incident and was then chased, tackled and threatened by an officer.

Police officers dispute the “disorderly” youths’ account and told the Daily News that two officers were hospitalized with scrapes, bruises and sprains. The NYPD Bureau of Internal Affairs is investigating the claims.

It’s not surprising that much of the public is leery of the department’s ability or willingness to investigate such claims against itself. In addition to known discriminatory policies and practices such as Stop and Frisk and the Muslim Surveillance program, a new report claims that NYPD’s targeting of Muslim communities and individuals is much more intense than previously revealed.

Reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman say the NYPD designated several mosques and secular community organizations as terrorist enterprises without any prior evidence of wrongdoing. This designation meant that police could aggressively spy on individuals and communities without abiding by guidelines that limit investigations of constitutionally protected activity, such as praying or congregating. NYPD also made attempts to place confidential informants on the boards of the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY)and other organizations.

Apuzzo and Goldman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for their investigative reporting on NYPD surveillance, also released a book last week that details the department’s attempt to find hidden terrorist cells in New York and how police violating the civil rights of countless people in New York City and well beyond in the process.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly insists his department’s practices and policies are constitutional, and he and Mayor Michael Bloomberg continue to tout an oft-refuted counterterrorism record. Kelly waved off Apuzzo and Goldman’s claims, saying they are merely “hyping” their new book. “If it’s a reflection of the article, the book will be a fair amount of fiction,” Kelly said. “It’ll be half truths, lots of quotes from unnamed sources.”

However, the report largely relies on leaked NYPD documents and the new details in the book and the most recent report could bolster pending lawsuits that challenge the surveillance program. The new information also suggests that the City Council was right to override Bloomberg’s veto and establish a police inspector general position to keep the department somewhat in check.

Though the department’s practices have been exposed, there is no evidence that they have ceased. In light of that, local community leaders say the harm being inflicted by the NYPD is immeasurable and endangers the already battered trust between the community and police.

“It’s psychological warfare for a community that already feels marginalized and ostracized,” AAANY Executive Director Linda Sarsour said on the Melissa Harris-Perry show.

Whether via stop-and-frisk, widespread surveillance, or “papers, please” provisions, targeting people based on their identity and without any evidence of criminality is not only indefensible, it is lazy. There is no doubt that police in New York, Detroit and elsewhere have a sworn duty to scrutinize threats and pursue credible leads to protect our society from harm. But police also have an obligation to do their jobs without trampling on the rights of entire communities.

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