NEW YORK—Mosques have become places where people distrust each other. Coffee shops and hookah bars—normally home to spirited political discourse—have quieted. And Muslims citywide are changing their lifestyles to try and stay clear of the NYPD’s radar.
After an investigation from 2005 through 2009 uncovered previously secret policies of surveilling Muslims in the New York metro area—including at colleges, coffee shops, and mosques—a coalition of groups sought to find out what kind of impact this surveillance has had on the Muslim community.
There has been a severe impact, according to a report the groups released Monday.
“When the New York Police Department spied on over 150 mosques across New York City without suspicion of wrongdoing, what message did that send to New Yorkers? That Muslims, that mosques, are inherently suspicious,” said Nermeen Arastu, a volunteer attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and co-author of the report. “When the New York Police Department spies on over 31 student groups on college campuses across New York City and beyond, what message did that send to New Yorkers? That being Muslim and being a student is inherently suspicious.”
Muslims increasingly feel—especially after learning about the NYPD’s surveillance—that they can’t look like Muslims. They’re less and less inclined to go to mosques for religious activities, because they’ll likely be put under surveillance.
“I can’t grow my beard, I’ll get in trouble. I can’t dress like this, I can’t talk like that… It’s stressful,” said Kaled Refat, 24, a New Jersey resident cited in the report.
Concern about being spied on has hampered typically convivial, but sometimes heated, political discourse.
“We’re Arabs, we talk about politics all the time,” said Linda Sarsour, a community organizer and editor of the report. “Politics is all we do! Every coffee shop, it’s either Al Jazeera or a soccer game on TV. This new idea that we must be suspicious of those who speak about politics—something’s wrong.”
The Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund teamed up on the report. Representatives from these groups and supporters gathered at 1 Police Plaza, outside the NYPD headquarters, to release the report and later tried giving a copy to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Kelly has defended the practice, saying it has helped stop 14 terrorist plots on New York City.
The report authors counter that the terrorist plots the NYPD says have been thwarted were only, in reality, three real plots, and were so lacking in credibility that federal officials declined to bring charges, citing a ProPublica report.
In 2012, Thomas Galati said the surveillance on Muslims never led to an investigation, according to court documents.
For the new report authors interviewed 57 persons in a range of professions, asking them how the surveillance has impacted them.
Part of the surveillance has been a significant increase in unmarked cars outside of mosques, as well as police officers pressuring members of the community to spy on others in return for money or other amenities, such as an apartment.
Kazi Fouzia, a Muslim who works for the group Desis Rising Up & Moving, an organization that organizes working class South Asians for issues such as immigrant rights, said she has been followed to her house by police officers.
“This is our duty to protect our community,” she said.
The NYPD did not immediately return a request for comment.
Update: A NYPD spokeswoman sent an email response.
“The NYPD protects the rights of all New Yorkers and has made certain both its counterterrorism and intelligence programs and procedures pass constitutional muster, specifically in regard to the Handschu accord. Incidentally, a New York City police detective on the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) was the lead detective in the investigation of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Bin Laden’s son-in-law, who was arraigned last week in Manhattan Federal court. The NYPD has been in involved, along with our Federal partners, in thwarting very real plots against the city since 9/11, and in identifying individuals in the region – including New Jersey -- who have provided material support to foreign terrorist organizations. At the same time we respect and protect individual rights, including religious liberty.”
She also recommended a speech given by Commissioner Kelly last year, “which addresses much of the misinformation that has been and continues to be spewed inaccurately and unfairly against police protecting all New Yorkers”
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