Over 100 people rallied and heard testimony in Philadelphia Federal Court on Jan. 13 in support of Muslim civil rights and against surveillance by the New York Police Department based on religion. The case against the NYPD’s warrantless surveillance program was argued by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates. An Iraq war veteran, the former principal of a grade school for Muslim girls, Rutgers University students and a coalition of New Jersey mosques are among the plaintiffs seeking damages and other remedies for violations of their rights under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and the First Amendment’s guarantees on freedom of religion.
In a massive dragnet, the NYPD reportedly infiltrated every mosque within a 250-mile radius of New York City with informants and produced detailed reports on every mosque within a 100-mile radius. According to a press release by Muslim Advocates, the NYPD has spied on mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools and two Muslim Student Associations in New Jersey alone since 2002. The monitoring included video surveillance, photographing, community mapping and infiltration. All of this was based on religious affiliation, not criminal suspicion.
According to the NYPD itself, more than 10 years of spying failed to produce a single lead. However, the Newburgh 4, Yassin Aref, Sami Al-Arian, the Fort Dix 5 and hundreds of other innocent Muslims were entrapped, dragged through unfair “preemptive prosecution” court trials and imprisoned through the use of similar spying programs in cities and towns across the U.S. over the last decade. (projectsalam.wordpress.com)
Police violations of civil rights are not new to New York. According to “Mapping Muslims: NYPD and Its Impact on American Muslims” put out by the CUNY School of Law, “Sadly, race and dissent-based surveillance has a long lineage in the NYPD. Police surveillance of dissident and minority groups can be traced as far back as 1904, when the NYPD created an ‘Italian Squad’ to monitor the practices and activities of Italian immigrants. In 1906 the NYPD had an ‘anarchist squad’ which focused on harassing anarchists and labor activists. The NYPD’s surveillance of political activists of various kinds — communists, anarchists, labor activists and civil rights activists — continued from the 1930s through the 1970s, under various names: the Bomb Squad, the New York Radical Bureau, and the Bureau of Special Services (BOSS).” (The Declaration, Jan. 13)
The NYPD claims it recently disbanded one of the main units through which it conducted surveillance of Muslims. There is no evidence, however, that it has abandoned the underlying, unlawful targeting and profiling of Muslims.
Coming just days after the shooting of 12 journalists in Paris on Jan. 7 at the magazine Charlie Hebdo, the case against the NYPD becomes even more important in stemming racist, anti-Muslim sentiments and practices in the U.S.