Muslim New Yorkers Decry Police Spying

     BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – More than a decade of religious profiling and unlawful police surveillance of Muslims has “profoundly harmed” them, Muslim New Yorkers claim in Federal Court.
     The American Civil Liberties Union and its New York chapter filed the lawsuit Tuesday over the New York Police Department’s so-called Muslim Surveillance Program, which they say has “imposed an unjustified badge of suspicion and stigma on hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers.”
     About 100 people gathered outside NYPD headquarters in Lower Manhattan this morning to raise awareness about the suit. They carried signs reading, “NYPD: Stop Spying On Me” and “Walking While Black and Praying While Muslims Are Not Crimes.”
     “The NYPD has spread fear and chill throughout the community,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said at the rally.
     Surveillance and religious profiling of Muslims has been “an unlawful policy and practice” of the NYPD since 2002, according to the complaint.
     “This policy and practice has a false and unconstitutional premise: that Muslim religious belief and practices are a basis for law enforcement scrutiny,” the complaint continues.
     The NYPD’s Intelligence Division is at the helm of the so-called Muslim Surveillance Program, singling “out Muslim religious and community leaders, mosques, organizations, businesses and individuals for pervasive surveillance that is not visited upon the public at large or upon institutions or individuals belonging to any other religious faith,” according to the complaint.
     “That surveillance has included the mapping of Muslim communities and their religious, educational and social institutions and businesses in New York City (and beyond); deploying NYPD officers and informants to infiltrate mosques and monitor the conversations of congregants and religious leaders without any suspicion of wrongdoing; and conducting other forums of suspicionless surveillance of Muslim individuals, organizations, and institutions, including through the use of informants and monitoring of websites, blogs and other online forums,” the 33-page complaint continues.
     Police enter the information collected from these activities into databases, according to the lawsuit.
     Yet these “mapping activities have not generated a single lead, nor led to a single terrorism investigation,” according to the complaint, which cites the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division as its source.
     The lawsuit says the department’s activities have curtailed the religious freedoms of Muslims and caused fear of expression in the community.
     “I am not able to fulfill my duty as an imam, by not being able to discuss important topics,” Imam Hamid Hassan Raza, one of the plaintiffs, said at the rally.
     Both attendance and financial contributions at Raza’s mosque have also declined because members are “too afraid,” Raza said.
     Another plaintiff, 20-year-old Asad Dandia, said someone he befriended while in search of religious guidance turned out to be a police informant.
     The Kingsborough Community College sophomore said his “friends do not want to associate with me whatsoever” now out of fear of what the NYPD might do.
     “I am constantly frightened,” Dandia said. “What if I say the wrong thing? Islam requires giving back to the community that which you have been given by God. I’ve done nothing wrong and yet I am unable to practice Islam fully because of what the police department did to me.”
     “We are unbought and we are unafraid,” said Linda Sarsour with the National Network for Arab American Communities. “We deserve to live in a society that upholds the Constitution for all people and doesn’t chill our free speech.”
     According to the complaint, officers and informants monitor restaurants, bookstores, mosques, student associations and elsewhere to take photos, write down license plate numbers and keep notes on people for no reason, “other than because they are Muslim.”
     “The NYPD is supposed to protect New Yorkers but it is instead stigmatizing hundreds of thousands of community members as disloyal and inherently dangerous simply because of their religion,” NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg said. “Religious diversity has been a foundation of life in New York City for more than 300 years. This program not only violates our Constitution and our values as Americans and New Yorkers, but it promotes ignorance and prejudice.”
     Masjid Al-Ansar, Masjid At-Taqwa and Mohammad Elshinawy are also plaintiffs in the complaint, along with Dandia’s charitable organization Muslims Giving Back.
     New York City is named as a defendant, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and deputy intelligence commissioner David Cohen.
     Bloomberg and Kelly did not immediately provide a comment.
     The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the NYPD’s alleged activities are unconstitutional. They also want all records expunged, and an end to the alleged surveillance.
     ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi filed the complaint.

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