NEW YORK - This week on the presidential campaign trail, Republican candidate Ted Cruz suggested surveiling American Muslims, citing a proactive policing program tried previously in New York City under then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

That program targeted Muslim communities where authorities thought they might find terrorists after the 9/11 attacks in New York. It was highly controversial and has since been ended.

Cruz's proposal that U.S. law enforcement “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” outraged New York officials and Muslim Americans, who feel they are being treated as scapegoats in the aftermath of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels.

Cruz also criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to call evil “by its name.”

“The president has made a practice of holding national television conferences to lecture Americans on Islamophobia,” Cruz said. “Enough is enough. We need a president who directs our national security, our military and our law enforcement in defeating the enemy.”

Cruz, a Texas senator, added that, if elected president, he would “unleash the full force of fury of the United States of America to defeat radical Islamic terrorism and to utterly destroy ISIS,” an acronym for the Islamic State group.

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, le
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, left, listens as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference in Times Square about security enhancements in the city, March 22, 2016.

Police chief offended

Standing beside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in Times Square on Wednesday, New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton demonstrated how times have changed since 9/11 in 2001. He said he took great offense at Cruz's comments, especially as they related to Muslim officers within his ranks, willing to sacrifice their lives in uniform.

“I have over 900 very dedicated officers in this department, many of whom do double duty. They serve as active-duty members of the U.S. military in combat, something the senator has never seen,” Bratton said.

In New York’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, Atlantic Avenue is lined with Muslim-owned bookstores, cafes, and clothing and spice stores, representing such cultures as Pakistani, Syrian and African-American Muslim. Outside the local mosque, Masjid al-Farooq, Muslim Americans also took offense at Cruz’s surveillance proposal.

“That's like saying all white people in America are Klansmen, which nothing could be further from the truth,” said Lindsay, a New Jersey resident, referring to the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group. “Point the finger at those people who are responsible. Overzealousness is a factor in any community that you go in anywhere in the world.”

'Dangerous' statements

Jean, from Westchester, New York, said Democratic front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton summed up her own feelings by saying that such statements by Cruz and businessman Donald Trump were both “wrong” and “dangerous.”

“Stop preaching hate,” said Jean.  “We live here, we pay taxes, we love being here. We have doctors, nurses, schoolteachers, police officers that are Muslim. You understand? We're just trying to live a life, that's it.”

Following the attack in Brussels, de Blasio reassured New Yorkers there was no evidence of a credible threat against the city, which is ramping up efforts to guard against terrorist attacks.