By: Dr. Aref Assaf
How low can the NYPD stoop next? Mayor Bloomberg has asserted that policing NYC is never based on the religion of residents or suspects. It seems everything the New York Police Department does is based primarily on the faith of one certain group, namely American Muslims. Not only is racial and religious profiling a failed method, it is vital to note these acts of spying are done without warrant or justification.
It is a systematic strategy that The NYPD under Commissioner, Ray Kelly, targets the American Muslim community not only in NYC but in the surrounding states as well. The latest manifestation of this questionable strategy was unearthed by the Associated Press. In 2006, a 10-page document titled “US-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City”, which “recommended increasing surveillance of thousands of Shiite Muslims and their mosques, based solely on their religion.”
According to AP, none of the targeted mosques was linked to terrorism by the NYPD or federal agencies. The confidential document outlines a systematic plan to investigate ties between local mosques, Iran, and other groups the NYPD perceives as threats. The report specifically documents efforts by the NYPD to monitor 15 different mosques throughout the Tri-State Area, despite the fact that no illegal or suspicious activity has ever been reported at these religious centers. This news comes on the heels of the recent controversy around the training of NYPD officers through racially charged and bigoted videos such as “The Third Jihad.”
In addition, the need to spy on Palestinian Americans who may have links to Hamas was also argued, which the US Department of State blacklisted in 1996. The document calls for canvassing the Palestinian community in search of “terrorists” linked to Hamas and groups affiliated with the Iranian government. The document states, “The Palestinian community, although not Shi’a, should also be assessed due to the presence of Hamas members and sympathizers and the group’s relationship with the Iranian government.” A passage from the document says, “It is likely that if Hamas were to conduct a terrorist operation in New York City, it would do so indirectly so as not to jeopardize its tenuous status as a legitimate government entity.” Another passage: “Law enforcement research reveals that alleged members/sympathizers of known terrorist organizations traditionally supported and financed by Iran have a presence in NYC area. Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese individuals and locations affiliated with Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are the subjects of ongoing NYPD investigations. Hamas supporters/members have been identified among an NYC group of Palestinian nationals who originate from a small town in Palestine, Ein-Yabroud, and a Hamas stronghold. Many others from there now reside in the US (NYC, Chicago, NJ, Georgia, and Puerto Rico) owning and operating their furniture and carpet stores, generating funds that are allegedly funneled to Hamas.” (We should note that the NYPD has recognized Palestine. Ein Yarboud is a small village in the West Bank which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.)
The revelation of this report follows recent information indicating the NYPD’s extensive use of anti-Muslim material to train close to 1,500 police officers, as well as expansive spying on Muslim leaders who were publicly praised by Kelly as community anti-terrorism partners. One such exposed program was the ‘The Demographic Unit’ that mapped Muslims and Muslim sites in the Tri-State area without the full knowledge of local authorities. It should be noted that while the Obama administration has paid special attention to fighting “homegrown terrorism,” it has yet to approve the NYPD’s questionable practices. In fact, the CIA, according to news reports has pulled its agent from the Department after revelations of wide espionage activities.
By racially and religiously profiling Muslims, the NYPD’s abuse of power and trust stands to undermine the nation’s work to build a safer and more secure society. Many reports have proven that profiling does not help thwart or stop crimes, smart law enforcement based on accurate information does.
The NYPD has violated Muslim citizens’ civil rights and destroyed the trust necessary for effective policing. Lacking transparency, the stop and frisk practices, intrusive surveillance measures, these acts undermine trust between the Muslim community and the NYPD. BY targeting citizens solely on the basis of their faith, the NYPD has effectively criminalized the practice of Islam.This policy was foreboded by the questionable and flawed 2007 NYPD Report on Radicalization in the West. It suggests that the religious behavior of Muslims is a sign of incipient terrorism. The NYPD has established this policy to target a segment of New York and New Jersey community based on religion and not on suspicion or probable cause afforded under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution and N.Y. Const. Art. I, § 11.
This behavior fosters distrust and suspicion among all vulnerable communities which deserve assurances that laws enforcement agencies, local, state and federal are subject to oversight that will ensure the right of all Americans to be free from unwarranted police invasiveness. The NYPD’s measure of success is attained only when it focuses on tracking down actual threats, not targeting innocent Americans for invasive investigations and surveillance.
We call for the NYPD to first acknowledge the grave error of its ways. Furthermore, and as permitted by law, we demand an external investigation of the policies and practices employed by the NYPD, the development of an independent oversight mechanism over the NYPD. We join the call by otherorganizations for the immediate resignation of NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. We further ask our New Jersey Governor to address this serious matter. Short of this, mistrust will persist in both sides.
Dr. Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum, a think-tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American Affairs.