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Muslim activists give NYPD chief Ray Kelly the cold shoulder

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD chief Ray Kelly (Photo: AP)

Ray Kelly, the current head of the New York Police Department (NYPD) and a potential future mayoral candidate, has a problem. Month after month of revelations unearthed by the Associated Press (AP) has painted a damning picture of his police force’s massive and arbitrary spy operation targeting Muslims.

So now, Kelly is embarking on a public outreach effort to bring Muslim leaders over to his side. He’s had some success, and the likes of Zuhdi Jasser, an anti-Muslim activist, have publicly praised his actions. But Muslim activists highly critical of Kelly and the NYPD’s spying have called the public outreach a “sham” effort that has excluded the very people who have been requesting meetings with the NYPD over Muslim community-police relations.

Kelly has withstood months of withering criticism of the NYPD’s efforts to monitor and catalog virtually every aspect of Muslim life in New York City and elsewhere. Last week, Kelly met twice with Muslim leaders at One Police Plaza. The leaders came out of the meeting singing Kelly’s praises. Mayor Michael Bloomberg received the message; on his weekly radio show, Bloomberg said that “almost all of the Muslim groups he has spoken to in recent weeks are supportive of New York City’s surveillance programs,” the AP reported.

Muslim activists, though, say that’s simply not true. Last Friday, I spoke with Debbie Almontaser, a prominent Muslim leader in New York who was formerly the head of the city’s first dual-language Arabic public school. Later that day, Almontaser was set to participate in a press conference denouncing the meetings and the NYPD’s surveillance program.

Debbie Almontaser (Photo: WNYC/Flickr)

Almontaser, currently a coordinator and board member for the Muslim Consultative Network, was invited to the first of the meetings with Kelly. She rejected the offer, though, because she was only given 24 hours notice, and found it “insulting” that the NYPD was picking who to meet with.

“Police Commissioner Kelly has hand selected individuals” to meet with, said Almontaser. “He has just intentionally disregarded the call for a meeting or giving a courtesy invitation to individual leaders from the coalitions that have been asking for meetings for the past year.”

Almontaser also raised questions about the leaders meeting with Kelly. “Those leaders that he met with are leaders in their own right, providing services to individuals in their community,” she said. But “whether or not these people have the expertise of being able to critique legal, constitutional matters that infringe on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans, that has yet to be determined. Because if they were able to critique this surveillance project, and they read the extensive documents that were released by the Associated Press, they very well would see that this project is really infringing on our civil liberties.”

As for the claim that, in general, Muslims are supportive of the NYPD spy efforts, Almontaser also said that was false. She noted that the coalitions organizing last week’s press conference–the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and the Islamic Leadership Council of New York–represent over 65 organizations.

Kelly’s public outreach efforts came the same week as yet another damning report from the AP was published. The latest AP article definitively shows that the NYPD spied on people just because they practiced Islam–a detail that contradicts Bloomberg’s previous statements. The article was based on once-secret documents that show the NYPD compiled detailed information on Egyptians, Syrians and Albanians in the city. From the AP:

The New York Police Department collected information on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims, according to newly obtained secret documents. They show in the clearest terms yet that police were monitoring people based on religion, despite claims from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the contrary…

In late 2007, however, plainclothes officers in the department’s secretive Demographics Unit were assigned to investigate the region’s Syrian population. Police photographed businesses and eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops. The resulting document listed no threat. And though most people of Syrian heritage living in the area were Jewish, Jews were excluded from the monitoring.

“This report will focus on the smaller Muslim community,” the report said.

Similarly, police excluded the city’s sizable Coptic Christian population when photographing, monitoring and eavesdropping on Egyptian businesses in 2007, according to the police files.

“This report does not represent the Coptic Egyptian community and is merely an insight into the Muslim Egyptian community of New York City,” the NYPD wrote.

In response to the report, Almontaser said: “They are just specifically targeting Muslims, period. This is absolutely unacceptable and unconstitutional.”

The AP revelations are likely to keep streaming out. Still, Muslim activists have an uphill battle to fight. A Quinnipiac University poll released today reports that 58 percent of people surveyed support the NYPD’s dealings with the Muslim community.

Alex Kane
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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13 Responses

  1. Sand
    March 13, 2012, 1:34 pm


    “…“I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world,” Bloomberg said, according to the New York Observer. “I have my own State Department, much to Foggy Bottom’s annoyance. We have the United Nations in New York, and so we have an entree into the diplomatic world that Washington does not have.”

    It’s amazing how so alike both Mayor Bloomberg and Netanyahu are…

  2. maggielorraine
    March 13, 2012, 2:46 pm

    So when are we going to sue the NYPD?

  3. hophmi
    March 13, 2012, 5:01 pm

    You’re such a complete hypocrite, Alex. If I referred to a Jewish anti-Zionist as an anti-Jewish activist, you’d go nuts. But you have no problem referring to Jasser as an anti-Muslim activist. Want to explain the difference to us?

    • Cliff
      March 13, 2012, 5:35 pm

      The difference is that Jewish identity to you means Zionism.

      So you call anti-Zionists, anti-Jewish.

      Or you call them hypocrites in this case.

      There is no Islamic nationalism. And I see no precedent in the US for Muslims using the Islamophobia label in relation to anti-pan-Arabism/or whatever nationalistic identities.

      • hophmi
        March 13, 2012, 5:43 pm

        Cliff, you are so predictably full of bad-faith, it is not worth it.

        READ. I wrote that IF I referred to A Jewish anti-zionist as an anti-Jewish activist, not that I call all anti-Zionists, anti-Jewish. It’s perfectly clear that for Alex Kane, Muslims are only permitted to think a certain way. Otherwise, they are “anti-Muslim,” even if they are Muslim like Zudhi Jasser is.

        “There is no Islamic nationalism.”

        Are you kidding? There are dozens of Islamic states in the world, most of whom have serious minority rights issues.

      • maggielorraine
        March 13, 2012, 10:04 pm

        Wrong homphi. Jasser is anti-Muslim because he advocates following, wire-tapping, and otherwise spying on people simply because they are Muslim. If that isn’t anti-Muslim behavior, what is?

    • maggielorraine
      March 13, 2012, 10:01 pm

      Homphi, why don’t you take the time to read the article Alex linked to in his use of the term “anti-muslim” and see who Jasser is.

      An excerpt:

      “Unlike more wild-eyed anti-Muslim agitators like Frank Gaffney (with whom Jasser has collaborated) and Pamela Geller, Jasser comes across as calm, sober and professional. He gained notoriety in 2008, with the release of the Clarion Fund film The Third Jihad, which claimed that a fifth column of Muslim extremists have infiltrated America with the intent of establishing a theocratic state. The star of the film, Jasser helped promote the claim that has ricocheted all over the right—that a single document written by a lone Muslim Brotherhood member in the early 1990s proves that American Muslim charities and advocacy groups are part of a plot to subvert the Constitution and America and install an Islamic theocracy.”

      Do you understand this? The man narrated the Third Jihad. The man is a “Muslim” who believes spying on and racially profiling people simply because of their MUSLIM religion is a fantastic model, and one that should be reproduced in other cities.

      Even if you do not consider him anti-Islam, which I do after seeing the Third Jihad, he is absolutely anti-Muslim. Again, he supports spying on people simply because they are Muslim. Oh, and his organization was partly founded by Tarek Fatah, who thinks all Muslim Student Associations should be investigated.

  4. Inanna
    March 13, 2012, 8:38 pm

    They NYPD has a Demographics Unit? WTF?

  5. Scott
    March 13, 2012, 10:25 pm

    Mayor Bloomberg is not much like Netanyahu. I’d give him serious props for his stand on the”Ground Zero” mosque last summer, easily the most prominent American politician to defend the mosque.
    Not sure about Kelly, but as a former New Yorker who has had some dealings with NY cops, I’d advise against any automatic assumption that the NYPD are a locked in bigoted enemy. I’d play it out. The NYPD is an old institution, which has dealt with more kinds of multiculturalism, probably more successfully, than just about any institution in the Western world. The Catholic Church (yes, there’s some overlap) may be its main competitor. I can see why Debbie Altmontaser refused a meeting on short notice, but if I were her, I’d meet again. Kelly will come with aides, he’s probably not a dunce, he probably knows people who have run guns for the IRA or been accused of it; make your case reasonably and calmly. American history is on your side.

    • Sand
      March 13, 2012, 11:25 pm

      “….[Mayor Bloomberg] I’d give him serious props for his stand on the”Ground Zero” mosque last summer, easily the most prominent American politician to defend the mosque….

      That was his ‘public’ face == now you know what he really thinks and does behind the scenes.

    • marc b.
      marc b.
      March 14, 2012, 9:45 am

      i am not sure what you are saying, scott, letting it ‘play out’. the nyc should be subject to federal investigation for its actions. let that play out, then we’ll talk. and just try typing ‘new york city police’ and ‘corruption’ into google, and you’ll get a sense of what a grand institution the police in new york are, with recent findings of cops planting drugs to inflate arrest statistics, present and former cops running weapons, etc. all large police forces that are not subject to rigorous civilian oversight wind up mired in corruption.

  6. piotr
    March 14, 2012, 1:03 am

    NYPD also persecuted bicyclists with arbitrary arrests etc.

    Bloomberg is not evil like Netanyahu, but he has an authoritarian streak and it shows. For a huge plutocrat he is enlightened, and Putin is very liberal for a former KGB officer.

  7. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich
    March 20, 2012, 3:23 am

    This is how smart journalists tackle the Iranian problem –

    “No sane person would wish for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities — but nor would a sane person wish for a nuclear Iran.”

    Guilt by association. Funny though, the opposite of sane is insane, but that is a legal term, not a medical one. Nice try.

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