Muslim community under siege: Groundbreaking report documents how NYPD surveillance chills free speech and activism

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
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New York City residents demonstrate against the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims (Photo: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

The NYPD’s blanket surveillance of Muslim communities has chilled the exercise of constitutional rights and has strained community ties, placing an entire religious community under siege by the police, according to a groundbreaking report authored by members of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The report, the most comprehensive accounting yet of how the NYPD’s practices are harming the Muslim community, is based on original interviews with 57 New York City Muslims. The authors state that the NYPD’s spying program targeting Muslim Americans creates “a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion, encroaching upon every aspect of individual and community life.” Additionally, the surveillance program has “chilled constitutionally protected rights—curtailing religious practice, censoring speech and stunting political organizing” and has also “severed the trust that should exist between the police department and the communities it is charged with protecting.”

From its impact on curtailing religious practices and free speech to how it affects Muslims on college campuses, the report, titled “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims,” paints a disturbing picture of how a police force with no accountability has targeted an entire religious community.

But it’s a program, as the report notes, with nothing to show for it–other than a Muslim community that feels under siege. The fact that the surveillance has not helped stop terrorism doesn’t matter to police chief Ray Kelly, who vowed to continue “intelligence gathering.”

“The only way” to stop terrorism is “through intelligence gathering. That’s why it’s essential that the Police Department’s efforts to defend against terrorism be proactive and that we find those who are in the earliest stages of planning violent acts,” Kelly said yesterday, according to the Huffington Post. Kelly’s comments come 9 months after a top NYPD officer admitted that no leads had come from the intelligence gathering the NYPD has engaged in since the September 11 attacks. The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge reports that the program has cost the city over $1 billion, according to a City Council member. Kelly added that he had not seen the new “Mapping Muslims” report yet, though members of the Muslim community personally delivered it to police headquarters on Monday.

Police reporter Leonard Levitt, in an article on the new report, documents why  the NYPD’s surveillance program is futile:

Earlier this year, Kelly publicly acknowledged at a seminar at the YMHA that his vaunted oversees spying service, which has stationed detectives in 11 cities around the world, had produced not a single tip about potential attacks against the city. [See NYPDConfidential, Jan. 14, 2013.]

Kelly has also maintained that the NYPD’s spying on Muslims “only follows leads.” He has yet to explain why officers from the Intelligence Division spied on Buffalo’s Somali community in 2007 and 2008 when its local law enforcement liaison reported that there was no evidence of terrorism criminality in that community. [See NYPD Confidential Feb. 27, 2012…]

The focus on lone-wolf threats has led the NYPD to pursue mentally unstable young men, at least two of whom have histories of psychiatric treatment.

So while the spying program targeting Muslims has generated no criminal investigations, it has had a major impact on Muslim American community life. The NYPD has collected intelligence on where Muslim “hot spots” are in the city and in the larger Northeast. They have sent “crawlers” into mosques to monitor sermons and record what attendees say. And the police have gone after young Muslims to ask them to spy on members of their own community by “creating and capturing” inflammatory rhetoric and then sharing it with the NYPD.

All of these aspects of the NYPD program, instituted after 9/11 and first exposed by the Associated Press and by Leonard Levitt, are having a profound impact on how Muslim Americans in New York go about their daily lives.

Devout Muslims who formerly attended mosques have cut back. “People tell me ‘I’ll make my salaah [prayer] at home.’ They mention the [NYPD] camera right outside the mosque as the reason,” one Brooklyn imam told the report’s authors.

“I used to go to the masjid [mosque] quite a lot. That stopped as soon as they [the NYPD] knocked on the door,” added 26-year-old Ahsan Samad, who is a resident of Brooklyn. And “looking Muslim”–wearing a hijab, a niqab or growing a beard–is now also something members of the Muslim community are afraid to do.

“I’ve seen this emerging again: the number of young women who are not wearing hijab, young men shaving their beard, people changing their names. These decisions are made in part based on psychological trauma that these people are experiencing,” Debbie Almontaser, a prominent community leader, says in the report.

Political organizing has been curtailed as a result of the NYPD’s surveillance program. The NYPD has admitted that speaking Arabic or Urdu, or talking about political events in the Middle East, is enough to get Muslims spied on. “I come from a family of activists. My parents, when I first told them the Associated Press story is about to break, my dad told me don’t do anything about it. That was the first time my dad ever told me anything like that. This was the first time in my own family where safety trumped what was the right thing to do,” community organizer Ali Naquvi told the report’s authors.

Organizing on college campuses, in particular, has been hit hard by the NYPD’s surveillance. “For college students, typically aged between 17 and 22, the prospect of dealing with surveillance by a police department, infiltration of events and extracurricular activities by informants, and the potentially devastating academic, professional, and personal repercussions can be overwhelming,” the “Mapping Muslims” report states.

“Israel/Palestine and Muslim youth culture are the two topics where you feel the air goes out of the room. Students get anxious. The conversation is uncomfortable, the atmosphere changes in the room,” a professor at Hunter College, Carla Bellamy, states in the report.

Mistrust of others in the Muslim community has also increased because of the NYPD’s spying program.

Many Muslim New Yorkers, according to the report, are wary of other Muslims they do not know because of suspicions they could work for the NYPD. The report documents a number of stories of how the NYPD has targeted young Muslims to become informants. One Muslim high school student told the report’s authors how the police had contacted her school’s principal. At first, the student thought it was because she had complained to the principal about someone who was following her. It turned out the police were interested in her online activities and her friends. After the initial conversation with NYPD agents at her school, the same agents came to her home while her parents were not there and rifled through her belongings. Young and broke, the police thought they could coax her into spying on her community. “[The detective] said the department can provide you with a place, a job if that’s what you’re looking for, an apartment, we can give you your freedom,” the woman told the report’s authors.

And then there’s the fact that the surveillance program has poisoned Muslim-police relations. There is “extensive collaboration between the precinct-level police doing beat work and the Intelligence Division, as the Intelligence Division mined precincts’ ‘local knowledge’ of the communities they are meant to serve and to protect,” the report says. “For example, the Citywide Debriefing Team, a unit within the Intelligence Division, was tasked with going to precincts or jails to question – or ‘debrief,’ in NYPD terms – arrestees of Muslim or Arab background. As [our] clients’ experiences confirmed, upon being taken to the precinct – for a traffic violation, or even for filing an identity theft complaint – individuals have been met by officers or detectives from another unit and questioned about their community, and their religious or political beliefs.”

The “Mapping Muslims” publication concludes with a number of recommendations, which include: a halt to the NYPD surveillance program; the expunging of police records collected on Muslims; an investigation into violations of police guidelines; the passing of legislation to bring “oversight and accountability” to the NYPD; and more.

The report states that their “grave findings necessitate urgent action by policymakers and grassroots activists alike.”


About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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8 Responses

  1. American
    March 13, 2013, 4:57 pm

    You don’t have to google far to see that Kelly has something going with the zio orgs or some big Jews in NY. He regularly travels to Israel and is a favorite of all the Jewish groups around the country.
    The Muslim orgs should check out his finances—dollar to doughnuts he’s getting a payoff of some kind, either money or access to something financially or politically rewarding.
    Kelly and his NYPD have been caught at the Muslim hate thing too many times….like below……but he stacks the NYPF with Muslim haters and it keeps right on. And Bloomberg refuses to fire him…quelle surprise. What is so funny is that when they are caught on something they behave exactly like Israel…first they lie about….and when their lie is exposed they try to down play it….and then when that doesn’t work they blame it on some slip up by a rouge underling. Just call the NYPD the NYC Department of Israeli Enforcement .

    New York
    Rally calls for NYPD commissioner to quit over anti-Muslim training filmMayor Bloomberg admits commissioner Ray Kelly’s reputation has been ‘dented’ over video shown to hundreds of officers
    Ryan Devereaux in New York, Thursday 26 January 2012 18.30 EST

    Members of the New York Muslim community gather at City Hall to protest against the showing of an anti-Muslim film to police officers. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
    Members of New York’s Muslim community took to the steps of City Hall Thursday to call for the resignation of the police commissioner and his chief spokesman, after the NYPD admitted showing a virulently anti-Muslim film to officers undergoing counter-terrorist training.

    Local religious leaders and city lawmakers accused the New York police commissoner Ray Kelly and his chief spokesman Paul Browne of misleading the media and community representatives over the film.

    Hours after the protesters spoke, it was revealed that the CIA had withdrawn an officer who had been working in the NYPD on controversial post 9/11 counter-terrorism strategies.

    On Monday, the New York Times revealed The Third Jihad had been shown to nearly 1,500 police officers, directly contradicting previous statements by Browne, who said it had only been shown a handful of times. Kelly is interviewed in the video discussing the dangers of terrorism.

    At City Hall, Amna Akbar, an adjunct professor at City Univeristy New York, spoke for the Muslim American Cilvil Liberties Coalition, which organized the press conference. “We’re standing here together today to call for Commissioner Kelly’s resignation, to call for the resignation of Paul Browne, to call on city council to establish an independent community control and oversight mechanism because we now know the NYPD does not feel accountable to our communities.” She also called for “a re-training of the officers that watched The Third Jihad”.

    New York mayor Michael Bloomberg rejected calls for Kelly’s resignation but admitted the affair had dented the reputation of the NYPD. “I think it’s fair to say that there is a little bit of embarrassment that this film was made,” he said. “I think anything like this doesn’t help credibility. Ray’s gotta work at re-establishing the credibility that he has.”

    With violent imagery and shots of executed children, The Third Jihad makes the claim that American Muslims of all stripes are in the midst of an effort to seize control of the country; the third phase of an ongoing “1,400-year war”.

    “Americans are being told that most of the mainstream Muslim groups are moderate,” the narrator says, “when in fact if you look a little closer you’ll see a very different reality. One of their primary tactics is deception.” The film was produced by the Clarion fund, a non-profit group linked to pro-Israel organizations. The New York Times said a previous documentary made by Clarion, about Muslims’ “war on the west”, was funded by Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who recently donated millions to Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign. The Times did not suggest he had funded the later film.

    When the Village Voice revealed last year that the film had been shown at training sessions, Browne claimed no NYPD officers had seen the video and that it was “reviewed and found to be inappropriate”. After being pressed further, Browne conceded the “wacky film” had been shown a “couple of times.”

    continued at……

  2. DICKERSON3870
    March 14, 2013, 1:13 am

    RE: “The NYPD’s blanket surveillance of Muslim communities has chilled the exercise of constitutional rights . . .” ~ Alex Kane

    MY COMMENT: Due to what Max Blumenthal refers to as the “Israelification” of many of the police forces here in the U.S., the police have very little appreciation of, or regard for, anyone’s constitutional rights. That’s what happens when you allow the training of U.S. police alongside Israeli security forces (e.g. quasi-military Israeli police) that are an integral part of an occupation where Palestinians have virtually no rights (constitutional or otherwise).

    SEE: “Report: Israeli model underlies militarization of U.S. police”, By Muriel Kane, Raw Story, 12/04/11

    [EXCERPTS] The extreme militarization of American police forces has been brought to public attention by the tactics employed against Occupy protesters, which often appear more appropriate to counter-terrorism operations than to the control of non-violent protest. According to investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, however, the proper term for this ruthless suppression of dissent should be “Israelification.”
    In an articlewhich begins with examples of American police training alongside Israeli security forces, Blumenthal writes, “Having been schooled in Israeli tactics perfected during a 63 year experience of controlling, dispossessing, and occupying an indigenous population, local police forces have adapted them to monitor Muslim and immigrant neighborhoods in US cities.
    Meanwhile, former Israeli military officers have been hired to spearhead security operations at American airports and suburban shopping malls, leading to a wave of disturbing incidents of racial profiling, intimidation, and FBI interrogations of innocent, unsuspecting people. The New York Police Department’s disclosure that it deployed ‘counter-terror’ measures against Occupy protesters encamped in downtown Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park is just the latest example of the so-called War on Terror creeping into every day life. Revelations like these have raised serious questions about the extent to which Israeli-inspired tactics are being used to suppress the Occupy movement.”
    According to Blumenthal, the transformation began after September 11, when American law enforcement officers began to look to the Israelis for counter-terrorism expertise and in response the Israel Lobby “provid[ed] thousands of top cops with all-expenses paid trips to Israel and stateside training sessions with Israeli military and intelligence officials.”
    Many of these trips and training sessions were arranged by JINSA [the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs], the stridently pro-Israel organization whose advisors have included such prominent Neocons as Douglas Feith and Richard Perle.
    The Anti-Defamation League has also provided Israeli-run training sessions to over 700 police officers through its course on Extremist and Terroist Threats and claims to have provided a background in Israeli perspectives to another 45,000 through its Law Enforcement and Society program, which is required training for all new FBI agents.
    The Israeli influence has been particularly strong in New York City where, Blumenthal writes, “under the leadership of Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, ties between the NYPD and Israel have deepened by the day. Kelly embarked on his first trip to Israel in early 2009 to demonstrate his support for Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip. … Kelly returned to Israel the following year to speak at the Herziliya Conference, an annual gathering of neoconservative security and government officials who obsess over supposed ‘demographic threats.’ … Back in New York, the NYPD set up a secret ‘Demographics Unit’ designed to spy on and monitor Muslim communities around the city.” . . .


  3. Annie Robbins
    March 14, 2013, 9:00 am

    someone should sue the city.

    the program has cost the city over $1 billion, according to a City Council member.

    from Police reporter Leonard Levitt link:

    Nearly all interviewees thought they knew someone who was an informant or an undercover officer.


    One of the philosophical pillars on which the NYPD has based its spying is “homegrown” or “lone wolf” terrorist threats.

    Those threats have been articulated by Dr. Marc Sageman, a former CIA official with a doctorate and medical degree, and the author of two books on terrorism, who in 2008 became the NYPD’s first and only “scholar in residence.”

    In what appears to be an unprecedented financial arrangement for a municipal agency, Sageman was paid $180,000 through a non-profit organization called the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation, which was set up by the department and raised $300,000 from secret donors.

    Its president was Stephen Hammerman, the department’s former Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs; its secretary, Joseph Wuensch, Kelly’s Chief of Staff.

    Who the donors are remains a mystery. ……..It has also led them to operate as a lone-wolf law enforcement agency, apart from its terrorism-fighting law enforcement partner, the FBI.

    so Kelly’s Chief of Staff was secretary in an islamophobe foundation. and the end of the article:

    At a City Hall news conference, announcing the arrest with great fanfare, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance accused Ferhani and Mamdouh of plotting to blow up the largest synagogue in Manhattan and to kill as many Jews as possible.

    A grand jury, however, failed to indict them on the top terrorism charge. Instead they were indicted on lesser state terror and hate crime counts.

    Ferhani’s lawyer has claimed Ferhani has had 30 involuntary commitments to psychiatric wards since age 17.

    throwing red meat at the hordes.

    • marc b.
      March 14, 2013, 9:56 am

      In what appears to be an unprecedented financial arrangement for a municipal agency, Sageman was paid $180,000 through a non-profit organization called the NYPD Counter-Terrorism Foundation, which was set up by the department and raised $300,000 from secret donors.

      that’s f*cked up, annie. private donors funding governmental counter-terrorism activities. there’s a word for that sort of public-private initiative coined by mussolini.

      ps hang in there. i can tell this upper case letter thing is killing you.

  4. marc b.
    March 14, 2013, 10:28 am

    Earlier this year, Kelly publicly acknowledged at a seminar at the YMHA that his vaunted oversees spying service, which has stationed detectives in 11 cities around the world, had produced not a single tip about potential attacks against the city.

    brilliant. i’m certain that the police departments of those 11 cities were dying to provide confidential information on their counter-terrorism programs to the NYPD.

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