Muslim groups demand investigation of NYPD surveillance

Muslim groups demand investigation of NYPD surveillance


Muslim and civil rights organizations are calling for Governor Christie to investigate secret surveillance of Muslim communities by the New York Police Department in New Jersey.

The 16 New Jersey-based groups, including the Paterson-based Arab American Forum and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, sent a letter to the governor asking for a “prompt investigation” into the extent of NYPD spying activity in New Jersey and the involvement, if any, of New Jersey police.

The call for an investigation follows a series of press accounts that reveal the NYPD was closely watching Muslim neighborhoods, including ones in New Jersey, and infiltrating mosques and Muslim student groups. The wide scope and secrecy of the surveillance has left Muslim communities unsettled and has strained trust with law enforcement, community leaders said.

In the letter sent to the governor Friday, the groups allege the NYPD violated civil rights by spying on people based on their ethnicity or religion.

“It’s unauthorized and unconstitutional and they are employing racial profiling. There’s not sufficient reason for them to be spying on certain individuals,” said Aref Assaf, president of the Arab American Forum.

The NYPD and the governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon. NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said that police only follow legitimate leads and do not do surveillance based solely on religion.

But local activists feared that was not the case. They pointed to a recent news report that the NYPD had recommended surveillance at Shiite mosques and organizations with no reported link to terrorism, and in Palestinian communities. The reason given by police in a 2006 document was to counter any threat linked to Iran, where Shiite Muslims are the majority of the population.

The police document, obtained by the Associated Press, lists priority places in New York City for intelligence gathering and lists 12 “other Shi'a locations in the vicinity of NYC” - a list that includes six locations in New Jersey. The report is what prompted their request for the governor to intervene, leaders said.

It’s unclear whether any NYPD action was taken at those locations, but coalition members said they were alarmed by the list and concerned that people were being singled out because of their religion.

“It was focusing on law-biding New Jersey residents who have shown no evidence of wrongdoing and were being targeted by the NYPD,” said Sakina Rizvi, a member of the Council of Shia Professionals, based in New York and New Jersey.

Assaf said he was also concerned about the NYPD’s use of surveillance in locations outside its jurisdiction, and without any outcry from New Jersey officials.

“The fact that they are getting involved in these activities without the consent of local authorities is to me a troublesome precedent,” Assaf said.

In their letter, the coalition of groups asked Christie to investigate whether New Jersey police were involved in surveillance or aware of the surveillance programs and whether such activity is still ongoing in the state. The groups have requested that the governor petition the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations of illegal activities by the NYPD.

The department is reviewing requests to investigate, but declined further comment, said spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa.

In a December forum on racial profiling in Paterson, Charles McKenna, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said his office did not know about the NYPD surveillance when it happened and he found it “intolerable.”

He said New Jersey had better relations with its Arab and Muslim communities than many other states. “They did stuff we don’t do in this state,” he said.

But local activists say state leaders need to go further to protect the rights of its citizens.

“People are getting more and more suspicious,” Rizvi said. “It’s hard not to after hearing report after report of harassment in our community.”