NYPD Surveillance: Unconstitutional and Un-American

By Nasir Almasri, Government Affairs Intern

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“It was Muslims who knocked down two buildings in 2001,” carelessly stated Fox News reporter Liz Trotta. And, clearly, it was Christians who led the Ku Klux Klan, it was a Christian who killed 77 people in the Norway Massacre, and it was Jews who killed 29 worshippers at Ibrahimi Mosque.

This is all said tongue-in-cheek; such comments are utterly nonsensical and expose the ignorance of Trotta and those who hold similar views. Labeling these extremists, these so-called “fundamentalists,” simply as Muslims, Christians, or Jews invokes unnecessary fear and promotes prejudice.

These views have been gladly taken up by bigots across the country, namely Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, and have filtered into media outlets everywhere. American Muslim leaders Imam W. Deen Shareef and Ahmed Rehab have repeatedly argued that American Muslims are overwhelmingly law-abiding, and the facts support their assessments (though Trotta scoffs at the idea). What’s more, American Muslims are genuinely concerned with the safety of the United States and “have been at the forefront of helping law enforcement abort and avoid terror plots in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere around the country,” according to Rehab, the Executive Director at the Chicago office of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

So then why, as Rehab suggests, do law enforcement officials not reach out to the Muslim community as a partner in curbing terrorism? Is it not obvious that law enforcement should collaborate with American Muslims – who have repeatedly condemned and opposed terrorist activity – in their efforts to prevent anything from happening to OUR country? American Muslims are among the most interested in ending terrorist activity but are guilty by association, and thus, cannot be trusted.

Unfortunately, this view of guilt by association has spread to the New York Police Department since it hired David Cohen, the former head of the analytical and operations departments for the CIA, as its first Civilian Intelligence Chief in 2002, according to AP. Following the tragedies of 9/11, the NYPD saw a need for increased intelligence in and around New York City, specifically in New Jersey.

In his new role, Cohen began to implement tactics he used in his former job and even hired current CIA operatives to assist him – that is, some of his subordinates worked for the NYPD and CIA simultaneously (this is very problematic, as the CIA is not allowed to collect intelligence domestically, yet agents crossed this barrier daily with confidential information). Cohen’s new, more aggressive style, combined with a U.S. District Judge’s ruling that loosened the 1985 Handschu Agreement, has led to a surveillance program that is both unconstitutional and un-American.

Though it is unclear exactly when surveillance programs began, this 2006 NYPD Intelligence Report, recently released by the Associated Press, seems to be enough justification within the police department to carry out these unwarranted practices. The report attempts to legitimize surveillance by labeling groups, specifically Iranian Shia’s, as potentially dangerous.

The reasoning behind the labels is spotty at best; as CAIR-Chicago Intern Agnieszka Karoluk points out, the report mentions groups that are “allegedly” (variations of this word are used repeatedly) linked to terrorist groups. Karoluk also counts the inaccuracies in the report, such as the misinformed titling of an imam as the “highest Shi’a religious authority in North America.” The report essentially opens the door to the spreading of these practices, and even cites all Palestinians as potential threats solely based on Hamas being headquartered in the Gaza Strip, Palestine.

In the fall of 2007, two more secret documents were issued by the NYPD, more controversial than the previous. In September, this 58-page Demographics Report was created to further examine “Locations of Concern”, which would “provide the maximum ability to assess the general opinions and general activity of these communities.” A “Location of Concern” is defined in many ways in the report, the most controversial being “a localized center of activity for a particular ethnic group” and “a popular hangout or meeting location for a particular ethnic group that provides a forum for listening to neighborhood gossip or otherwise provide for an overall feel for the community” [sic]. The remainder of the report maps the Muslim population of Newark, NJ based on ethnicity, and provides pictures of every mosque, school, and place of business with specific details of each. The NYPD even lists different “madrassahs” in Newark and identifies them on the maps. The way the term “madrassah” is used stems from the extremely ignorant and abominable use found in the media, where “madrassah” is seriously and dangerously misused, according to YaleGlobal. Contrary to this misuse, “madrassah” means nothing more than “school.”

In November, the NYPD published a three page Weekly MSA Report that gave detailed information regarding the activities of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at [the University of] Buffalo. “As a daily routine, the undersigned visited the following Muslim Student Association website, blogs and forums …” the report showed. An officer even partook in a white-water rafting trip with the MSA at one of the campuses of City College of New York (CUNY), according to an NPR investigation.

Unwarranted monitoring of these communities is clearly identified in these reports: In the 58-page document, there was not a single mention of a lead but instead a listing of entire communities separated by ethnicities (i.e., communities that are mainly Muslim) and even maps of where they lived. In the wake of these findings, the NYPD has absolutely no room for denial that they are singling out Americans based on perverted, inaccurate ideas about the motives of specific groups unjustly perpetuated through the media and the commentary of public officials and bigots that have been harmful to these law-abiding citizens.

Rehab suggests that this is an “egregious violation of the Constitution.” Numerous civil rights groups and lawyers agree, arguing that these programs are targeting communities solely based on ethnicity and religion, and the reports support these assertions. No leads, no posed threats, and no communication with the communities in question may lead to a great distrust between these law-abiding Americans and the NYPD that is supposed to protect them, not antagonize them. This alienation “has created an atmosphere where there is certainly an undue suspicion that has been cast upon the entire Muslim community,” according to Imam Shareef. Muslim communities – staunch allies in opposing terrorism – are an efficient resource for the NYPD. They can monitor their communities with dignity while maintaining their 1st Amendment rights, and their support is essentially cost-free.

These practices are all too similar to those of the FBI during the career of the late Malcolm X. FBI informants – Black Americans who were not members of the Nation of Islam (NOI), where Malcolm preached – would sit in on his lectures and note his behaviors. Unfortunately, the FBI, which had long labeled the NOI as dangerous, had never realized that these “Black Muslims were not radicals, but profound conservatives” according to Malcolm X’s biographer, Manning Marable, who wrote Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Once again, law enforcement officials are hiring informants to infiltrate places of business for Muslims because they, too, are unfairly labeled as dangerous. A closer look at the Muslim community – and its patriotic, law-abiding constituents – reveals a partner for the NYPD, not an enemy.

In June 2012, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffery Chiesa released a report that found that the NYPD had done no wrong. Some, like New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, defend the NYPD because of Chiesa’s conclusion. Interestingly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claims he was not aware that these programs were in place, which should raise red flags. However, with the aforementioned AP investigation and released documents, it is clear that the NYPD’s actions were unconstitutional; in wake of these findings, a Muslim civil rights group has filed a lawsuit against the NYPD.

The NYPD must call an end to unconstitutional profiling and extend a hand to the Muslim community in their efforts. There is a genuine interest in the safety of New York City by the NYPD, but the method currently employed is fundamentally flawed since it is based on a system of mistrusting a group – it discounts the same genuine interest of the Muslims to keep the city safe. American Muslims have been, and always will be, interested in the safety of this country. It is time to stop this unjust, unconstitutional, and un-American profiling practice.

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