America 2.0: NYPD's Muslim Surveillance Program

[Content Note: Islamophobia; harassment; police malfeasance.]

The New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project of Main Street Legal Services, Inc. at CUNY School of Law have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Muslims living in New York City whose civil rights are being routinely violated by "an unconstitutional religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance program."
The landmark lawsuit charges that the NYPD's Muslim Surveillance Program has imposed an unjustified badge of suspicion and stigma on hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers. It was filed on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques and a charitable organization that were all swept up in the NYPD's dragnet surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers. These individuals and organizations seek systemic reforms that will end the NYPD's spying program in which entire communities of New Yorkers have been singled out simply because of their religious beliefs.

"When a police department turns law-abiding people into suspects because they go to a mosque and not a church or a synagogue, it violates our Constitution's guarantees of equality and religious freedom," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. "No one questions that the NYPD has a job to do, but spying on innocent New Yorkers because of their religion is a wrong and ineffective way to do it. We are asking the court to end the NYPD's unconstitutional religious discrimination."

...As documented extensively by the NYPD's own records, its Intelligence Division has built a program dedicated to the total suspicionless surveillance of Muslims in the greater New York City area. Officers and informants routinely monitor restaurants, bookstores and mosques and create records of innocent conversations. The Department also sends paid infiltrators into mosques, student associations and beyond to take photos, write down license plate numbers and keep notes on people for no reason other than because they are Muslim. An NYPD official admitted that the mapping activities have not generated a single lead or resulted in even one terrorism investigation.
Emphasis mine. There is no magic number of leads and/or investigations would justify an unconstitutional violation of Muslims' civil rights anyway, but the fact is that the number is ZERO. Even the usual suspects who make the usual indecent arguments about exchanging freedom of one class for the safety of another can't say shit about this pervasive matrix of harassment. There isn't even an argument to be had about the program's effectiveness which neatly obfuscates that efficacy shouldn't trump liberty. There is no foundation, no matter how mendacious, on which justification of this program can stand.

(Which hasn't stopped Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD from defending it.)

But the fact that it is not effective in preventing terrorism (who could have predicted?) does not mean the program has no effect. It has, of course, greatly impacted the Muslim community who have been targeted by the harassment.
Plaintiff Asad Dandia, a 20 year-old Brooklyn resident and sophomore at Kingsborough Community College, helped found a charitable organization as an expression of his faith. Muslims Giving Back provides food to New York families in need. The small student group was infiltrated by an NYPD informant, who accompanied Dandia to his home for dinner and met his parents, and once even spent the night.

After the NYPD informant revealed himself, Dandia and his group lost their meeting location at a local mosque, donations to the organization have declined, it has had a difficult time attracting new members, and current members worry that another informant may be in their midst. Dandia says he has changed how he speaks and acts for fear that anything he says or does can be taken out of context.

"I am constantly frightened. What if I say the wrong thing?" Dandia asked. "Islam requires giving back to the community that which you have been given by God. I've done nothing wrong and yet I am unable to practice Islam fully because of what the Police Department did to me."

Imam Hamid Hassan Raza, spiritual leader of Brooklyn's Masjid Al-Ansar mosque, has been taping his sermons for years because he is afraid an undercover officer or NYPD spy will misquote him or take a portion of a sermon out of context, subjecting him and his mosque to even more law enforcement scrutiny. After plainclothes officers visited him repeatedly for no reason, he has also stopped mentioning topics that the NYPD might consider controversial, and urges congregants to do the same. Raza has seen a steep decline in mosque attendance as a result of the Muslim Surveillance Program.

"I don't talk to my congregants about current affairs or religious subjects the NYPD may find objectionable because I'm afraid of further police attention. The surveillance program has prevented me from fulfilling my duty as an imam," Raza said. "I cannot believe this has happened in the country that I know and love."

..."NYPD surveillance has affected every facet of American Muslim life in our city," said Ramzi Kassem, supervising attorney at CLEAR and associate professor of law at CUNY. "The program has stifled speech, disrupted communal life and chilled religious practice and it has criminalized a broad segment of American Muslims."
Once upon a time, President George W. Bush, to justify military intervention in a predominantly Muslim country, told the nation that radical extremist Muslims "hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. ... These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. ... [B]y abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way to where it ends in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."

Well. I do have to agree with our former president (mark ALL the calendars!) that being contemptuous of people's freedoms—their freedom of religion, their freedom of speech, their freedom to assemble—that disrupting lives and interfering with people's way of life, that valuing power for the sake of power over pluralism and truth, all sound pretty terrible! Terrorism is definitely the worst!

That's only hyperbole if you've the privilege of not living in terror of the people meant to protect you.

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