Backed by the American and New York Civil Liberties Unions, New York Muslims filed a federal lawsuit in June 2013 against the New York Police Department (NYPD). The lawsuit claims that secret NYPD programs that monitor Muslims in the Northeast are invasive and unconstitutional. The NYPD instituted such surveillance programs after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Throughout 2011 and 2012, the Associated Press reported on secret NYPD programs that monitor Muslims in the area. According to the reports, the programs utilize informants and extensive databases to track Muslims, including radicals. Since the AP reports, Muslim groups and civil liberties organizations have been outspoken against such programs.
The lawsuit states that New York Muslims have suffered from the “observer effect.” In other words, Muslims are now afraid of discussing various issues and listening to certain sermons because their actions and statements may be taken out of context by police informants. The lawsuit points out that Hamid Assan, a Brooklyn imam, spent $2,000 upgrading video equipment in his mosque to record his sermons in the event that any of his comments came under question by authorities.
In another instance, Asad Dandia, who heads an Islamic charity group, said that people stopped donating to his organization after rumors spread that an informant had infiltrated his group. Moreover, Dandia stated that the alleged informant tried to incite trouble by talking about controversial topics, such as the war in Syria.
One Brooklyn mosque claimed that the NYPD pointed a camera at its front door. As a result, many congregants decided not to attend the mosque.
The lawsuit claims that such surveillance discriminates against Muslims and violates their First Amendment right to worship freely. In addition, the suit states, “The NYPD has also instructed and trained informants to bait Muslim New Yorkers into making inflammatory remarks, which are then reported to the police.”
However, Celeste Koeleveld, an attorney speaking on the behalf of the Department of Public Safety, defended the NYPD’s surveillance program. Koeleveld stated, “The NYPD’s strategic approach to combating terrorism is legal, appropriate, and designed to keep our City safe.”
Koeleveld further continued, “Cities cannot play catch-up in gathering intelligence about a terrorist threat. Our results speak for themselves, with New York being the safest big city in America and the police having helped thwart several terrorist plots in recent years.”
However, in 2012 the Associated Press reported that NYPD Assistant Chief Thomas Galati stated that six years of surveillance by the department’s secret “Demographics Unit” did not thwart any terrorist attacks. Galati made the statement while giving a deposition for a civil rights case.
Website Resource: Muslims sue NYPD over monitoring of mosques, congregants, LA Times, June 19, 2013