American Muslims from all walks of life joined religious and civil leaders outside Police Plaza here March 11 morning to release a new report documenting the impact of the New York Police Department’s extensive surveillance program that targeted American Muslims throughout the Northeast.
The report is a collection of voices from affected community members reflecting how the NYPD spying and infiltration creates a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion that encroaches upon every aspect of their religious, political, and community lives.
“We’ve been talking about the [NYPS] spying as a civil rights issue and as a constitutional issue without understanding that this is [also] about human beings, their religious institutions, and about students chilled on their campuses,” Linda Sarsour, the coordinator of the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, told Desi Talk, after the press conference.
Sarsour’s group collaborated with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and a City University of New York project called Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) to produce the report, which they were to deliver to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly after the press conference.
Since 2002, the NYPD embarked on a covert domestic surveillance program that monitored American Muslims throughout the Northeast, from spying on neighborhood cafes and places of worship to infiltrating student whitewater-rafting trips, a press release from the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition said. According to the release, the program continued despite the NYPD’s own acknowledgment that, over the course of six years, these efforts had not generated a single lead.
“This report provides a powerful rebuttal to the NYPD and its supporters’ assertion that surveillance is harmless and victimless,” Diala Shamas, a Liman Fellow at the CLEAR project and one of the report’s authors, was quoted in the release as saying.
“NYPD surveillance has impacted every facet of American Muslim life,” said Nermeen Arastu, a volunteer attorney with AALDEF.
“The program has stifled speech, communal life and religious practice and criminalized a broad segment of American Muslims.”
Speaking at the March 11 press conference, Soheeb Amin, who recently graduated from Brooklyn College where he was president of the Muslim Student Association, said that at least one police informant had joined his student group and another infiltrated his mosque. Now the 22-year-old expects informants to be everywhere, all the time. In the report, some interviewees said they’d stopped having certain conversations for fear of being spied on. The owner of a cafe mapped by the Demographics Unit said, “I don’t allow Al-Jazeera on in our hookah bar, particularly when things flare up in the Middle East.”
Interview subjects also said the spying interfered with their ability to worship. Out of fear, some parents told their children not to wear Muslim garb in public. Others said they’ve stopped going to their mosque or quickly leave after services because they don’t trust the person praying beside them. “Attendance at a mosque,” the report notes, “has become tantamount to placing oneself on law enforcement’s radar.”
Other speakers at the conference were Amol Sinha, director of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union; Fahd Ahmed of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) and Queens Councilman Daniel Dromm.