Muslims and allies rally in New York’s Foley Sq. against NYPD spying on Muslims (Photo: CAIR-NY/Flickr)
The movers and shakers in New York and New Jersey have shut down hopes that top officials would hold the New York Police Department (NYPD) accountable for civil rights violations of Muslims, who have been uniquely targeted by a police surveillance program ongoing since 2002. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has insisted that the NYPD has done nothing wrong, and a recent probe of the program by the New Jersey attorney general agreed with Bloomberg.
So it comes down to a San Francisco-based legal organization, Muslim Advocates, and a group of New Jersey Muslims to do the job. They are determined to win redress for what they say are constitutional violations by the NYPD that were revealed by a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series in the Associated Press (AP).
On June 6, Muslim Advocates and seven plaintiffs filed suit in federal court in New Jersey against the NYPD’s surveillance program targeting Muslims in the Northeast, which was implemented with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency.
This lawsuit focuses on the NYPD’s actions in New Jersey, which was the subject of a February 2012 report in the AP. In Newark, the NYPD built a “database” of where “Muslims work, shop and pray.” One of the institutions that showed up in the NYPD’s 60-page report mapping out Muslim life in Newark was an elementary school for Muslim girls. The AP also reported that officers from the NYPD’s “Demographics Unit” took pictures and eavesdropped on the conversations of Newark Muslims.
The NYPD has given no indication that their spying program has stopped.
The lawsuit seeks to end the surveillance program, expunge any police records of activity conducted by the plaintiffs and award damages for any harm the police’s actions caused. The lawsuit (a PDF of which you can read here) alleges that the NYPD violated New Jersey Muslims’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. Here’s an excerpt from the suit:
The NYPD Program is founded upon a false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law-enforcement surveillance targets, or that it is a permissible proxy for criminality, and that the Muslim community can therefore be subject to pervasive surveillance not visited upon any other religious group or the public at large.
It is the first lawsuit filed against the NYPD surveillance program, though it will likely not be the last.
The plaintiffs are a diverse group of New Jersey Muslims who say they have been harmed by the NYPD’s surveillance. One of the plaintiffs is Moiz Mohammed, a Rutgers University student and member of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) chapter at his school. The NYPD infiltrated MSAs at a number of colleges.
“For all I know, someone can be knocking on my family’s door tomorrow morning just because I’ve been attending the MSA meetings,” Mohammed said, in a video posted by Muslim Advocates. “I’m a little more conscious if I pray in public. I think twice about it. I just feel uncomfortable.” Watch Mohammed’s video here:
The federal suit is being filed in an unfavorable post-9/11 environment, though, where the federal judiciary has often sided with the government even as it runs roughshod over civil liberties. Still, lawyers for the plaintiffs say they will forge ahead.
“Our hope is that a court will see what our community has seen,” Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates, said in a video.
To learn more about the Muslim Advocates lawsuit, click here.