[The following press release and report were issued by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC), and its partner organizations the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsability (CLEAR) project of CUNY School of Law, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).]
New Report Launch: NYPD and Its Impact on American Muslims
On March 11, 2013, members of the American Muslim community will release findings from a ground-breaking new report, Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims at 1 Police Plaza, and deliver the report New York City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Ray Kelly and Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen.
The report is an unprecedented collection of voices from affected community members, many of whom spoke with researchers under strict anonymity, and documents the impacts of NYPC suveillance on various aspects of religious, political, and community life. The report details how the NYPD`s extensive spying program creates a pervasive claimate of fear and suspicion that encroaches upon every aspect of American Muslims` lives, and severs the essential relationship of trust that should exist between law enforcment agencies and the communities they are charged with protecting.
Since 2002, the NYPD`s secret, suspicionless surveillance program has monitored American Muslim places of worship, community spaces, and student groups from New York City to Long Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and beyond.
"This report is critically important reading for all Americans concerened with freedome, justice, and equality in 21st Century America," said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, chair of the Majlis Ash-Shura (Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York. "It is the authentic voice of real people impacted by unjust policies and procedures, for which Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly remain both defensive and un-apologetic. Further, it is a powerful rebuttal to all who seek to minimize the impact of NYPD suerveillance of Muslims as a faith group, even as they strive to do the same with the program known as `Stop and Frisk`."
The report was prepared by the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC), and its partner organizations the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) project of CUNY School of Law, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF).
Impacted community members, government officials, and representatives of MACLC, CLEAR, and AALDEF will discuss findings from the report at the press conference, including:
- Impacts on students on college campuses, including silencing their activism, alientating their student groups, and affecting their academic choices;
- Suppressing religious spaces, as mosque congregants become suspiscious of one another, imams hesitate when advising their congregants, and individuals refrain from appearing overly `Muslim` to avoid triggering surveillance;
- Silencing speech and political activism--from engagement in public debates and protests, to friendly coffeehouse banter;
- Damaging the NYPD`s own relationship with American Muslims in New York City, breaching communities` much-needed relationship of trust with those who are tasked with protecting them.
Diala Sahmas, diala, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ujala Sehgal, email@example.com
Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and Its Impact on American Muslims
Since 2001, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has established a secret surveillance program that has mapped, monitored and analyzed American Muslim daily life throughout New York City, and even its surrounding states. In 2011, the unveiling of this program by the Associated Press (AP) and other journalists who had obtained leaked internal NYPD documents led to an outcry from public officials, civil rights activists, American Muslim religious leaders, and members of the public. Protesters and advocates held that such racial and religious profiling was not only an example of ineffective policing and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, but it also marginalized and criminalized a broad segment of American Muslims. Almost a year later, in August 2012, the Chief of the NYPD Intelligence Division, Lt. Paul Galati admitted during sworn testimony that in the six years of his tenure, the unit tasked with monitoring American Muslim life had not yielded a single criminal lead.
Proponents of the sprawling surveillance enterprise have argued that, regardless of its inefficacy, mere spying on a community is harmless because it is clandestine and that those who are targeted should have nothing to fear, if they have nothing to hide. Our findings, based on an unprecedented number of candid interviews with American Muslim community members, paint a radically different picture. We have found that surveillance of Muslims’ quotidian activities has created a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion, encroaching upon every aspect of individual and community life. Surveillance has chilled constitutionally protected rights—curtailing religious practice, censoring speech and stunting political organizing. Every one of our interviewees noted that they were negatively affected by surveillance in some way - whether it was by reducing their political or religious expression, altering the way they exercised those rights (through clarifications, precautions, or avoiding certain interlocutors), or in experiencing social and familial pressures to reduce their activism. Additionally, surveillance has severed the trust that should exist between the police department and the communities it is charged with protecting.
Section One of the findings highlights the impact of NYPD surveillance on religious life and expression. Interviewees felt that the NYPD’s spotlight on American Muslims’ practice of their faith, their degree of religiosity and their places of worship disrupted and suppressed their ability to practice freely. Many also indicated that within heterogeneous Muslim communities, this has resulted in the suppression of certain practices of Islam more than others. Interviews also highlighted the atmosphere of tension, mistrust and suspicion that permeates Muslim religious places – which the NYPD has infiltrated with informants and undercover agents, deeming them “hot spots.” These law enforcement policies have deeply affected the way Muslim faith is experienced and practiced in New York City.
Section Two documents how NYPD surveillance has chilled American Muslims’ freedom of speech. Interviewees noted a striking self-censorship of political speech and activism. Conversations relating to foreign policy, civil rights and activism are all deemed off-limits as interviewees fear such conversations would draw greater NYPD scrutiny. This same fear has deterred mobilization around Muslim civil rights issues, and quelled demands for law enforcement accountability. Parents discourage their children from being active in Muslim student groups, protests, or other activism, believing that these activities would threaten to expose them to government scrutiny. Surveillance has also led to a qualitative shift in the way individuals joke, the types of metaphors they use, and even the sort of coffee house chatter in which they engage.
Section Three turns to the communal and social consequences of surveillance. As American Muslims learn that members of their own communities are recruited as informants or undercover officers to spy on their communities, an atmosphere of mistrust has settled in. Interviewees unanimously observed that everyone scrutinizes everyone, noting particular hesitation with regards to new faces in the community, or converts to Islam. Many interviewees admitted to shunning individuals who behaved differently, awkwardly, or even those who showed interest in political topics or in exploring Islam. Similarly, some described an aversion to those who appeared overtly religious or political, because they were assumed to be more likely targets of surveillance. Finally, in addition to suspicion within the American Muslim community, the section outlines consequences of NYPD scrutiny on American Muslim communities’ relationships with non-Muslims. American Muslims fear that non-Muslim Americans will view them with suspicion because law enforcement has branded them a population “of concern” – work or school relationships have suffered as a result, and Muslims’ political marginalization has been compounded.
Section Four explores the distinct harm the NYPD surveillance program has had on the department’s relationship with American Muslims. An inability to trust their local police is deeply harmful to American Muslims, many of whom have worked hard since September 11 to develop positive relationships and constructive dialogue with their local precincts as well as the NYPD brass. Interviewees noted deep apprehension of the NYPD’s intentions and practices towards them. This has trickled into the day-to-day interactions with beat-police officers, whether it is hesitation about filing stolen phone complaints, asking an officer for directions, or reporting hate crimes. Muslim institutions have similarly felt compelled to distance themselves from the NYPD. Interviewees noted that because the NYPD has blurred distinctions between its community affairs divisions, its precinct-level law enforcement, and intelligence gathering, American Muslim leaders’ duties towards their communities require a more cautious approach with the NYPD.
Section Five turns to the impact of NYPD surveillance on speech, religiosity and community dynamics on college campuses. College students are afraid to discuss politics, civil rights issues, or international affairs within their student organizations and in their classrooms. Professors have described this chilling of student life as “devastating” to the student experience. By chilling students’ propensity to engage in activism during their formative college years, surveillance is deterring a generation of American Muslims from developing their leadership skills and mobilizing for social causes. The potential long-term effects of this phenomenon on those students’ communities has yet to be fully grasped.
This report concludes with some key recommendations, many of which echo those already articulated by many American Muslim and civil rights advocates: The need for meaningful oversight, transparency, and accountability when it comes to the NYPD has never been greater.
[Click here to download the full report]