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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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NYCLU Wants Cops’ Spying on Muslims Stopped

MANHATTAN (CN) - The NYPD's surveillance and infiltration of New York-based Muslim groups represents the "essence of a police state," according to a blistering memorandum seeking the end of the controversial program.

"A particularly dire effect of the use of police surveillance for purposes of intelligence is that the program is interminable," the New York Civil Liberties Union wrote in the memo filed Monday in Federal Court.

"The present police program has endured for at least seven years, and continues. When surveillance is conducted to detect crime, it will stop when the crime is stopped or the danger passes, but a surveillance program of the sort that the NYPD conducts has no end. Its pervasive injurious effects must increase as people become more aware of the surveillance. This is the essence of a police state."

Though the NYPD initially denied the existence of a Demographics Unit that spied on Muslims, a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning articles from The Associated Press last year confirmed that unit's existence, scope and CIA support.

Civil libertarians claim that the NYPD program, now called the Assessment Program, violates a court order in Handschu v. Special Services Division, a lawsuit filed in 1971.

That year, a trial against members of the Black Panthers revealed extensive NYPD dossiers on a large array of political groups throughout the city. Also that year the FBI's Cointelpro program targeting domestic political groups was supposed to have ended.

In 1985, a federal judge in Manhattan ordered a consent decree that came to be known as Handschu guidelines, named after a former lawyer for the Panthers. The rules barred police from investigating political and religious organizations without "specific information" linking the group to a crime.

A year after the Sept. 11 attacks, the judge loosened the Handschu guidelines to give police wider powers to investigate political groups in the so-called war on terror.

Recent evidence suggests that the NYPD's latitude to spy has not helped police fight extremism.

Last year, NYPD Intelligence Division Assistant Chief Thomas Galati testified in a deposition that he had not heard that the program ever stopped a crime.

"I never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a demographics report, and I'm here since 2006," Galati told the court on June 28, 2012. "I don't recall other ones prior to my arrival."

On Monday, the New York Civil Liberties Union revisited the 41-year-old case by seeking an end to the NYPD's Assessment Program.

"The NYPD is investigating organizations associated with Islam precisely because the NYPD is interested in their political activities," the 23-page memo states. "The concentration on things Muslim arises out of the prejudice that the NYPD has brought to its program: the NYPD supposes that because an organization is connected to Islam, therefore it is suspect. The present motion addresses NYPD spying on the Muslim community because the police have chosen to make Islam the mark of suspicion of political crime."

In one of the 15 exhibits, Queens resident Shamiur Rahman testified about the 9 months he spent as a informant, being paid as much as $1,500 a month to take part in the NYPD's alleged "create and capture" program.

"This meant I was to pretend to be a devout Muslim and start an inflammatory conversation about jihad or terrorism and then capture the response to send to the NYPD," Rahman swore in a deposition. "I did this on numerous occasions with people I met at mosques and other locations."

One of these "other locations" included a Muslim student association at John Jay College, he says.

Rahman said he never snared even a litterbug, and quit the program in September 2012 because he "did not want to spy on people any longer."

The NYCLU supplemented its motion with statements from John Jay College President Jeremy Travis and Muslim activists Linda Sarsour and Faiza Ali.

"Organizations and persons in the Muslim community are suffering irreparable harm due to the [Assessments] NYPD program," the NYCLU's memo states. "The provisions of the [Handschu] Guidelines are designed for the purpose of preventing such a program, and they should be enforced by this court."

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