NEW YORK— A coalition of American Muslims delivered to New York City police headquarters Monday a report that alleges widespread ethnic profiling by the city police department’s counter-terrorism and surveillance programs. The report calls for enhanced legislative and judicial protection from what Muslims allege is unconstitutional spying.
A group of about 40 Muslim Americans representing The Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition and other advocacy organizations gathered in downtown Manhattan to formally present a 51-page report called “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims.”
Attorney Diala Shammas spearheads a City University of New York project to promote accountability and transparency within the New York City Police Department. She says police surveillance of Muslims has been “extremely invasive” since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“We know that they’ve been sending informants into mosques, into places of worship," said Shammas. "They’ve sent informants into Muslim student associations, into club rooms, into whitewater rafting trips, places that the NYPD has no business being.”
Shammas says no one knows the precise extent of the police surveillance program or its exact methods.
“… but what we do know is that there are undercover officers, but there are also informants who are members of the community who are paid or pressured either through incentives or by taking advantage of their vulnerabilities to go into these communities and to report what they hear," said Shammas.
This became a personal issue for Maryam Said, a student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, when she learned that her university’s Muslim club had been infiltrated by an informant posing as a fellow student and friend.
“And it kind of created a mistrust among the people when they found out," said Said. "Because they thought he was a good friend of theirs. They were like ‘you were a brother. You were our family, we took you in. We were there for you. And you turn around it turns out you were just here watching us and we haven’t done anything wrong.’”
The “Mapping Muslims” report offers several recommendations to counter what it sees as a growing threat to the community’s constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law, freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination. These include community discussion groups, know-your-rights workshops and other awareness campaigns. Diala Shammas adds that government oversight and protection against excessive surveillance also is crucial.
“It could either be done through the City Council, and there are some pending bills before City Council. If the courts have to intervene - then courts should intervene - to bring oversight to the NYPD. We would like it if it just comes from the NYPD themselves," said Shammas.
Several calls to the New York City Police Department for comment or to rebut the report went unanswered.