New York City area community activists will be rallying this afternoon demanding the resignation of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and NYPD spokesperson, Paul Browne. They are also demanding independent community oversight of the NYPD as a series of Associated Press and New York Times reports have alleged that under Kelly the department not only overstepped legal and ethical boundaries by spying on its citizens, it may have done so without federal approval and its actions were based on institutionalized religious and racial discrimination. Amongst the evidence provided is Kelly’s participation in an anti-Muslim propaganda film train police officers and leaked documents indicating covert operations to spy on area Muslims.
“The Muslim community is tired of the lies coming out of the NYPD and their policies that continue to paint everything Muslim as suspicious,” says Faiza Ali, community organizer and Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC) member, “First it was denying the wholesale surveillance of our mosques, businesses, student groups minus any evidence of criminality. Most recently it’s the, repeatedly lying about their participation and use of the anti-Muslim film The Village Voice first reported on the film, training 1500 police officers.
The latest AP report reveals a secret NYPD document in which officers are instructed in spying on tri-state area Shia Muslims of Irani descent, Palestinians, and other Arab Muslims. The purpose of the spying is to gauge the potential terrorist threat to a potential conflict between the US and Iran. The document includes a list of suspect locations, which no discerning evidence as to what makes them suspect either than that the locations are mosques of Shia affiliation. The document also makes sweeping generalizations with no clear basis like, “In NYC, individuals affiliated with Hamas generate funds via furniture and carpet stores.”
Unfortunately, the reports do not come as a shock to area Muslims who have become accustomed to being viewed as suspect for simply being Muslim and legal advocates who have spoken out about the erosion of civil-rights in this country over the last decade. The NYPD has a long history of racial profiling. Last fall it was revealed that the NYPD and CIA had joined forces in spying on Muslim neighborhoods, as well as college students and student groups, though the collaboration was not officially approved. The NYPD’s expansion over the years as a para-militarized unit that dabbles in foreign intelligence has been aided by the passing of the Patriot Act and more recently, the NDAA, all demonstrating that Mayor Michael Bloomberg could very well be correct when he described the NYPD as the ‘seventh biggest army in the world.’
So it should come as no surprise that Bloomberg has come to the defense of Commissioner Kelly and the actions of the NYPD, and that both Bloomberg and Kelly have refused to candidly communicate with the communities they claim to want cooperation from. Bloomberg stated, “Ray Kelly probably visits more mosques than a lot of other people who believe in the faith and practice there.” Not only did he present an astoundingly flawed defense – Kelly and the NYPD visit mosques to gather intelligence not spread goodwill, which is part of the problem – but he also, managed to insult the very community he was attempting to apologize for betraying their trust.
Perhaps what is most astounding about the recent revelations is that despite the willingness of a community that wants to engage in healthy relationship with law enforcement, and despite the wealth of intelligence information, the well documented studies on terrorist groups, the numerous scholars on Islam and Islamic cultures available through some of the most respected universities in the nation, the NYPD refuses to honestly engage and seems dependent on rouge uncredentialed propagandists and the mapping and spying of anyone and everyone who appears to be remotely ‘Muslim.’
Professor Charles Kurzman, for example, author of the Missing Martyrs, spoke at Columbia University last fall about the lack of violent Muslim extremists and lack of such attacks. His writings and words echoed that the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Reponses to Terrorism’s (START) Director, Gary LaFree. At START conference examining the decade of counterterrorism study since 9/11 LaFree reiterated that based on statistics gathered since the 1970s, much has remained unchanged about our level of threat of being potentially attacked.
So what has happened in recent few years that has caused the NYPD to expand its counterterrorism efforts exponentially, so that they are now including hypothetical domestic threats from hypothetical international wars? How do fringe groups like The Clarion Fund, which has a proven track record of funding dangerously Islamaphobic films, such as The Third Jihad and its latest, Iranium, get to set the agenda in New York and trump documented research?
Much remains to be answered and community activists are demanding Bloomberg do so. Faiza Patel and Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center have called for the formidable oversight of the NYPD as there currently is no such process in place. Hussein Rashid of Religion Dispatches issued a similar response. Twenty community organizations have signed on so far for the rally today. Linda Sarsour, Executive Director at the Arab American Association of New York, says that the rally will be part of a longer strategy that includes education, outreach, engaging with elected officials and creating an oversight proposal.
The Muslim communities’ worst fears were confirmed over the past few months –despite their willingness to cooperate with law enforcement they are being viewed as suspect citizens. Ali says, “The community is outraged and deeply troubled by the lack of oversight for the police department. The NYPD is in the business of watching all of us, but no one is watching them to ensure that our rights are protected and that they’re not wasting our tax payer dollars profiling law abiding New Yorkers.”
Sarsour says that people in her community are terrified of what could happen next but they are remaining motivated and engaged. The rally, she says, “is to send a message to NYPD Commissioner Kelly that ‘we are not afraid,’ our community is one.
(Photo Credit: Limits to Growth)