From Islamophobic surveillance to ‘stop and frisk’: Organizers decry criminalization of their communities in NYC

CAIRFoleySq
Muslims and allies rally in New York’s Foley Sq. against NYPD spying on Muslims (Photo: CAIR-NY/Flickr)

Islamophobic subway ads, “stop and frisk” and the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance program–what’s the connection? Activists and experts spoke out last night to make explicit the links between all of these seemingly separate strands of discrimination in the city.

A packed house of some 125 people gathered in an Upper West Side church January 29 to hear about Islamophobia and “stop and frisk” in New York City. The event was organized by the Jews Against Islamophobia Coalition (JAIC), a grassroots group dedicated to being a Jewish voice against the scourge of anti-Muslim sentiment that has found a home in some Jewish establishment organizations. The event, titled “Making Connections and Organizing for Change: Anti-Muslim Hate Speech, Police Surveillance and Stop and Frisk,” reinforced the burgeoning coalition between Black and Latino groups working on “stop and frisk,” Muslim activists working on Islamophobia and Jewish activists supporting that work. The diverse crowd who showed up spoke to that coalition.

The panel was moderated by Marjorie Dove Kent, the dynamic head of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JREJ), a member group of JAIC. Other speakers included: Muneer Awad, the head of the Council on American Islamic Relations of New York (CAIR-NY); civil rights lawyer Alan Levine; community organizer Frank Lopez; and Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York.

You can watch the whole panel here, courtesy of “Joe Friendly”:

“None of these acts of Islamophobia,” like Pamela Geller’s anti-Muslim subway advertisements, “are isolated,” said Levine. The civil rights lawyer who authored a National Law Journal article on why NYPD surveillance was unconstitutional said that acts like Geller putting up hateful subway ads are encouraged by the NYPD’s assumption that Muslims are a suspect class of people.

“The defense of the surveillance program by the police chief and the mayor gives force to Pam Geller’s bigotry,” said Levine. CAIR-NY’s Awad made a similar point in a brief interview with me after the panel (I showed up a little late and missed his talk). “It’s not just anti-Muslim hate crimes,” said Awad–it’s the entire culture of Islamophobia that has developed and institutionalized in the city.

Lopez, a poet and filmmaker affiliated with the organization Brotherhood/Sister Sol, detailed how “stop and frisk” practices by the NYPD have criminalized whole communities in the city. “Stop and frisk” refers to the police practice of stopping and patting down city residents suspected of a crime. But it is a policy that has overwhelmingly fallen on the Black and Latino communities in the city, and is now being challenged by a series of civil rights lawsuits aimed at radically changing the NYPD practice.

panel From left to right, the panelists: Marjorie Dove Kent, Muneer Awad, Frank Lopez, Alan Levine and Linda Sarsour. (Photo: Alex Kane/Mondoweiss)

The NYPD’s wholesale surveillance of Muslim communities was perhaps the main focus throughout the night, but links between “stop and frisk” and the surveillance program were made explicit. “For me, whether you’re spying on the Muslim community, or stopping and frisking Blacks and Latinos, it’s the same thing,” said Sarsour, a Palestinian-American Muslim who is a prominent figure in the fight against Islamophobia in New York. “Let’s stop separating the issues,” she said, noting that both surveillance and “stop and frisk” amounts to criminalizing communities of color. Sarsour also noted that a significant chunk of the New York Muslim community is Black.

Those connections have already been taken up by activists in a concrete way. Much of the question and answer session was dedicated to discussing and advocating for a set of bills to reform NYPD practices that are currently pending in the City Council. Known as the Community Safety Act, the bills would create an Inspector General for the NYPD; ban profiling by the police department; protect against unlawful searches; and require officers to identify and explain themselves to the public. It is meant as a corrective to what many see as an out of control NYPD that is unaccountable to the city residents they serve. The coalition working on pushing through these bills, which has considerable support in the City Council, is called Communities United for Police Reform, and it includes civil liberties organizations, Black and Latino groups, Muslim groups and Jewish groups.

But New York is a town where the mayor holds much of the power in city government, and so the mayoral candidates’ positions on these bills and issues is of paramount importance. Bloomberg is a lost cause, and is fully behind the NYPD’s practices and its chief, Ray Kelly. But Bloomberg’s term is up this year, and a new crop of candidates are angling for the seat.

Sarsour noted that “stop and frisk” has been elevated into a major issue for the mayoral candidates, but spying on Muslims has not.

As public advocate, an office dedicated to being a watchdog over city government, Democrat Bill de Blasio has spoken out against how “stop and frisk” is currently used. So have other Democratic mayoral candidates, including the presumed front-runner and current City Council speaker Christine Quinn, comptroller John Liu and Bill Thompson. (Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota has defended “stop and frisk,” which garners higher support among white New Yorkers when compared to minority New Yorkers.) But on Muslim spying, it’s a different story. De Blasio and Quinn have defended the surveillance program, as Levine noted. Thompson has stayed silent, while Liu, who is under investigation by the federal government because of his fundraising practices, has criticized the NYPD’s spying.

Quinn remains likely to win, though, and she has reportedly said she would keep on NYPD chief Kelly at the helm.

“On NYPD spying, nobody’s really that good,” said Sarsour. “People don’t want to touch Muslim spying.” Perhaps one reason behind the different positions are the poll numbers: a recent poll says that 53 percent of New Yorkers disapprove of “stop and frisk,” a number that is likely a result of the prominent organizing being done against the practice. But the majority of New Yorkers back the NYPD’s practice of surveilling Muslim communities.

But Sarsour also noted that there are 20 open City Council seats, making it a crucial year in New York City politics. Sarsour urged audience members to vote based on police accountability issues.

Sarsour also closed out her remarks by noting that there are reasons to be hopeful, even as Islamophobia continues to crop up in New York. She was heartened by the ongoing campaigns to place anti-hate advertisements in the subway as a way to counter Geller’s recent anti-Muslim subway ads.
 

  1. But on Muslim spying, it’s a different story. De Blasio and Quinn have defended the surveillance program, as Levine noted. Thompson has stayed silent, while Liu, who is under investigation by the federal government because of his fundraising practices, has criticized the NYPD’s spying.

    Quinn remains likely to win, though, and she has reportedly said she would keep on NYPD chief Kelly at the helm.

    “On NYPD spying, nobody’s really that good,” said Sarsour. “People don’t want to touch Muslim spying.”

    wow, disappointing. great report alex. so glad you were there even if you showed up late!

  2. RE: “None of these acts of Islamophobia,” like Pamela Geller’s anti-Muslim subway advertisements, “are isolated,” said Levine. The civil rights lawyer who authored a National Law Journal article on why NYPD surveillance was unconstitutional said that acts like Geller putting up hateful subway ads are encouraged by the NYPD’s assumption that Muslims are a suspect class of people. ~ Alex Kane

    MY COMMENT: I agree, many acts of Islamophobia are not isolated. The funding clearly establishes that the ‘common nexus’ is Zionism/Israel! This is yet another reason that I fear Revisionist Zionism and Likudnik Israel (specifically by virtue of their inordinate sway over the U.S.) might very well be an “existential threat” to the values of The Enlightenment! ! !

    EXAMPLES OF ZIONISM’S VALUES TRUMPING (OVERRIDING) THE VALUES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT HERE IN THE U.S.

    “David Yerushalmi, Islam-Hating White Supremacist Inspires Anti-Sharia Bills Sweeping Tea Party Nation”, by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam, 3/02/11
    LINK – link to richardsilverstein.com
    “Boston airport security program rife with racial profiling has Israeli links”, by Alex Kane, Mondoweiss, 8/14/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    “How We Became Israel”, By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, 9/10/12
    LINK – link to theamericanconservative.com
    “America Adopts the Israel Paradigm”, by Philip Ghiraldi, Antiwar.com, 7/05/12
    LINK – link to original.antiwar.com
    “Obama’s kill list policy compels US support for Israeli attacks on Gaza”, By Glenn Greenwald, guardian.co.uk, 11/15/12
    LINK – link to guardian.co.uk
    ‘Israelis are helping write US laws, fund US campaigns, craft US war policy’, by Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, 6/30/12
    LINK – link to mondoweiss.net
    “Report: Israeli model underlies militarization of U.S. police”, By Muriel Kane, Raw Story, 12/04/11
    LINK – link to rawstory.com

    P.S. “Down, down, down we [the U.S.] go into the deep, dark abyss; hand in hand with Israel.”

    • ● P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “Manufactured Hatred: The Politics of Islamophobia”, by Andrew Levine, Counterpunch, 1/29/13

      [EXCERPTS] . . . Once it became clear to the indigenous population of Palestine that Zionists were intent not just on living among them but in taking over their land, Palestinian Arabs began to fight back. And so, from the mid-1920s on, Zionists who, like most colonial settlers, had been largely indifferent to the native population began to view it as hostile.
      Palestinians became enemies and, before long, so did Arabs generally.
      When they could not be ignored, they were marginalized and despised, and never more than when they fought back. American Zionists followed in tandem.
      But even as this history was unfolding, it was clear to most Israelis, and therefore to most “diaspora” Zionists, that while Palestinians and Arabs generally might be suitable targets of animosity, Muslims generally were not, and Islam certainly is not.
      It was not just the historical memory of (comparatively) good Muslim-Jewish relations that underwrote these convictions; there was also a strategic imperative.
      In the Zionist view, good relations with non-Arab Muslim countries on the peripheries of Arab lands – with Iran, especially, but also with Turkey and, to a lesser degree, with Muslim majority states in east Africa – had long been held to be almost as important as good relations with the United States.
      Even the 1979 Iranian Revolution didn’t change this perception . . .
      . . . This changed when the Soviet Union imploded, leaving the United States the sole superpower in the region, and when the Gulf War effectively removed Iraq as a threat to Israel. Israel no longer needed Iran to keep Iraq down.
      However it did need Iran to substitute for Iraq and other Arab countries as an existential threat.
      Israel may no longer be able to justify itself on the grounds that it provides world Jewry a refuge from anti-Semitism. But existential threats are no less useful on that account. How better to keep the domestic population in line and American money flowing in?
      The Iranian clerisy and important sectors of the Iranian political class found it useful too for Iran to be pictured as an existential threat to the Jewish state.
      This helps explain why, two decades ago, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab sentiments began to take on an islamophobic tone – not so much in Israel itself, since in any conceivable future, Israel would remain an island in a vast Muslim sea, but in right-wing Jewish circles in the United States, where islamophobia was an almost costless posture to assume.
      This was especially the case after 9/11, as islamophobia increasingly became an American obsession.
      Islamophobia accords nicely too with Israel’s courtship of evangelical Protestants.
      One would suppose that the gulf separating Zionists, both secular and religious, from (very) low-Church Anglo-Protestant proponents of dispensationalist theology would be unbridgeable, especially since Jewish Zionists well know that their Christian allies want Jews gathered into the Holy Land to hasten the End Time, when Jews who do not accept Christ will be cast into Hell for all eternity. But Zionists these days have no shame; there is nothing they will not do to help keep America in tow.
      And so, Jewish islamophobes make nice to perhaps the only Christians left who still promote anti-Judaism –touting “Judeo-Christian values” in opposition to the values of terrorist “jihadis,” Jew-hating anti-Christs, in whose lands Jewish communities had lived in peace for almost one and a half millennia. . .

      ENTIRE COMMENTARY – link to counterpunch.org

  3. The OJ started decades ago demonizing arabs constantly trying to set them up for one thing or another….never took hold in the USA….

    then they turned to the religious part…muslim…and keep on bashing them on television in news media…where ever they could..

    that took hold in the US..