New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the right, with Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa
When the Associated Press revealed that the New York Police Department (NYPD) spied on Muslim residents of Newark and mapped out where they eat, pray and work, the reaction from New Jersey officials was critical. “What we are discovering appears to be an NYPD operation in our city that involved the blanket surveillance of Newark residents and workers based solely on the religion of those individuals,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
“I know they think their jurisdiction is the world, but their jurisdiction is New York City,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
But now, a different tune is being heard from New Jersey.
A recently-concluded probe of the NYPD program in New Jersey has found that the police department did nothing wrong or illegal. The findings were announced by New Jersey attorney general Jeffrey Chiesa last week, though they have not been released publicly.
Chiesa reportedly told New Jersey Muslim leaders that “NYPD detectives were not profiling based on religion when they spied on Muslims in mosques, on college campuses and in places of business.” But the Associated Press revealed in March that NYPD intelligence agents were specifically asked to “focus” scrutiny on Muslim-Americans in the city. While that AP report focused on the police’s surveillance of Muslims in New York, similar tactics were used in Newark, as this NYPD document released by the AP makes clear:
Christie has now dropped his objections. “He’s investigated it, and if he’s come to the conclusion that no laws were broken, then that’s good enough for me,” said the governor.
That’s not what civil liberties and Muslim activists think, though. A New Jersey paper reports that Muslim activists are angered that an “official investigation” that would go beyond the preliminary fact-finding probe Chiesa carried out has not begun. More from The Record:
But the lack of an official investigation angered some Muslim leaders, who say they’ve opened up their mosques and organizations to investigators in recent years, only to find that secret surveillance had taken place.
Law enforcement leaders, including Chiesa, had worried publicly that the tensions would create distance with Muslim communities and hurt counterterrorism efforts. On Thursday, Chiesa also announced the establishment of a Muslim outreach committee to improve dialogue. The specifics, including who would serve on the panel, hadn’t been determined.
The response to the new Muslim outreach committee was lukewarm. Some leaders, like Imam Mohammad Qatanani of the Islamic Center of Passaic County said it was important to keep up dialogue and cooperation, despite the disappointment.
But not everyone is willing to be a part of it. Aref Assaf of the American Arab Forum in North Jersey, said he was offended to be asked.
“I don’t want to be a part of invading my own rights and violating my own liberties,” he said.
A different New Jersey paper, The Star Ledger, criticized the probe’s findings in an editorial. The American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in:
Ed Barocas, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, questioned the findings as well.
"The New Jersey attorney general’s statement that the NYPD violated no New Jersey laws by spying on Muslim houses of worship comes as cold comfort to anyone who found themselves under a microscope based solely on their religious beliefs," he said. "The issue still remains that the police were targeting religious and ethnic minorities, and New Jersey should have no part in enabling the discriminatory practices of the NYPD or any other law enforcement agency."
Activists in New York and New Jersey are continuing to contemplate further legal action against the NYPD for its surveillance program.