Posted by on October 07, 2013 in Blog

Today at 1pm EST is the pre-motion conference for Raza v. City of New York, a case challenging the constitutionality of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance of the Muslim community. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project at CUNY School of Law filed a lawsuit in June challenging the NYPD’s discriminatory surveillance of law abiding American Muslims, with the plaintiffs in the case being three religious and community leaders, two mosques, and one charitable organization. In a response filed last month, the city of New York denied "any implication that the NYPD conducts unlawful surveillance of any institution or individual." 

Since 2002, the NYPD has engaged in religious profiling and surveillance of American Muslims in the Northeast. New revelations from the just-released book Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America, by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, portray a comprehensive spy network known as the “Demographics Unit” that is run by the NYPD, complete with informants and pervasive surveillance. This Unit conducts “terrorism enterprise investigations,” (TEIs) which involve infiltrating mosques with informants and placing them under electronic surveillance. In particular, reports revealed that the NYPD designated entire mosques as “terrorism enterprises” which allowed them to be infiltrated and TEIs launched without any concrete connections between that mosque and any criminal wrongdoing or terrorist activities. With this designation, every person who attended the mosque for prayer services was assumed to be part of the “enterprise” and would become subject to investigations.

NYPD’s documents also reveal that the Department mapped entire Muslim communities, including religious, social, business, and educational institutions in New York City and elsewhere. However, these tactics have not generated a single lead or resulted in a single terrorism investigation.

Last week, a Federal judge revisited the Handschu decree set in 1985 that regulates the NYPD’s surveillance practices of political and religious activity. The decree prohibits the NYPD from investigating religious groups or organizations unless there is “specific information” linking the group to a crime that was either committed or about to be committed. While it’s likely that the NYPD violated the Handschu decree, it's also illegal under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause for law enforcement to conduct searches or spy on entire communities based solely on religious basis. The NYPD’s discriminatory surveillance program has also had deeply negative effects on American Muslims’ First Amendment rights by chilling speech and religious practices. 

In addition to the pending lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NYPD’s Muslim spying program, the Arab American Institute and other national civil rights, faith and community advocacy groups are urging the Department of Justice to commence an investigation of the NYPD’s discriminatory surveillance program under 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to conduct investigations concerning “a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers… that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” The NYPD’s actions have violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of thousands of innocent Americans and we urge the DOJ to launch a prompt investigation.   


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