Praying while Shi’a: the NYPD’s latest religious profiling scandal

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
Ray Kelly Kelly Kelly
New York Police Chief, Ray Kelly

How is it possible that New York police chief Ray Kelly still has a job?

Days after news broke that Kelly gamely sat for an interview for The Third Jihad, the anti-Muslim agitprop-cum-police training video, the Associated Press (bless its investigative soul) has broken news of yet another New York Police Department outrage: in May 2006, as tensions flared between the US and Iran, the NYPD “recommended increasing surveillance of thousands of Shiite Muslims and their mosques, based solely on their religion, as a way to sweep the Northeast for signs of Iranian terrorists.”That’s right, a whole religious group was deemed potentially suspect simply because they happen to worship the dominant form of Islam practiced in Iran.

The NYPD’s stunning surveillance recommendations were devised as part of a secret intelligence report prepared specifically for Kelly and titled, “US-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City.” At nine pages long, the document is filled with troubling tactics and targets, including a list of more than a dozen mosques, stretching from Connecticut to New Jersey, that were identified for surveillance despite no clear evidence of terrorist activity. Even more damning, perhaps, is the simple, eight-word sentence buried part-way down page two: “Expand and focus intelligence collections at Shi’a mosques.” Both New York City law and the NYPD’s own guidelines clearly prohibit this kind of religious profiling.  (Of course, the NYPD is also prohibited from engaging in racial profiling, but that hasn’t stopped its officers from stopping-and-frisking almost every black man who crosses their paths in certain city neighborhoods.)

And the outrages don’t stop there. In addition to its long list of Shi’a targets, the document also recommends tracking Palestinians living in New York City.Why Palestinians? Because, the report claims, Iran supports Hamas, and New York’s Palestinian community happens to contain some “Hamas members and sympathizers.” Call it the transitive property of Islamophobic profiling.

As the report warns:

The Palestinian community, although not Shi’a, should also be assessed due to presence of Hamas members and sympathizers and the group’s relationship with the Iranian government. According to US Census data, 3,100 Palestinians reside in NYC.

It’s not clear at this point whether the NYPD implemented all or even any of the recommendations of the “US-Iran Conflict” report. While Kelly claims that the report was merely a “contingency plan,” a former police official told the AP that the recommendations were generally followed. Either way, however, the recommendations are part of a pattern and practice of religious profiling — make that Muslim profiling — that raises serious questions about the leadership of the police department. What if the victims of all this profiling had been Catholics or gay men or Jews? What if Kelly had appeared in a conspiracy video called, say, The Third Temple, conflating all Jewish observance with fundamentalism and warning of a Jewish conspiracy to overthrew US culture and politics? Heads would have rolled, apologies would have been issued. And that would have been right, proper. As it is, neither has happened.

There is still time, however. Just yesterday, 33 civil rights groups called for an investigation by New York State’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, into the NYPD’s surveillance practices. “The need to hold the NYPD accountable for its flagrant use of discriminatory policing practices has never been more glaring and urgent,” the groups wrote. They are awaiting Schneiderman’s response.

About Lizzy Ratner

Lizzy Ratner is a journalist in New York City. She is a co-editor with Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss of The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.

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