Last year, the Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for revealing that New York City Police Department (NYPD) has spied on Muslim Americans, as well as their non-Muslim clients, customers and classmates over a decade both across the greater New York area and even well beyond its jurisdiction.
Today, impacted communities are continuing to respond. A lawsuit has been brought against the NYPD on behalf of Muslims in New Jersey, but has been delayed in court as lawyers for the city have asked the court to dismiss the case before examining evidence.
Further, on March 11, a coalition of Muslim groups, including the Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC) and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR), delivered a report of the devastating consequences that spying has had on the people it targets.
The report is based on interviews with 57 American Muslims in the city and reveals that the spying, far from being secret, was fairly well known and has created a “pervasive climate of fear and suspicion.” The report details the impact on nearly every aspect of everyday life, from religious life to freedom of speech to relationships with law enforcement to forming friendships. The report concludes with a request to the NYPD to end its surveillance program and for the City Council to establish more oversight of the police.
One young woman said, “Even if we know we have rights, we know they don’t apply equally to everyone.”
The police have defended themselves by claiming that they were acting within constitutional limits. New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly outlined the principle of the surveillance program, which is, “In its effort to anticipate or prevent unlawful activity, including terrorist acts, the NYPD must, at times, initiate investigations in advance of unlawful conduct.”
Yet the head of the NYPD Intelligence unit admitted under testimony that the surveillance program had not produced any terrorism or criminal leads during his six year tenure. The intelligence department has reportedly cost the city $1 billion since 2001.
Despite these assaults on their rights, community members remain resilient. The recently-formed New York City Muslim Club is eschewing other organizations’ ban on talking politics. The club is out to participate in the next mayoral race, and is also campaigning for recognition of Muslim holidays in public school calendars. The club, as well as a separate AL Jazeera estimate, claims that as many as 10 percent of the city’s population is Muslim.