Posted by on June 08, 2012 in Blog

In response to the troubling revelations of racial, ethnic, and religious profiling by the NYPD, a leading national legal advocacy group has made a powerful and impactful response. Muslim Advocates, representing a diverse group of American Muslims, has filed suit against the New York Police Department alleging unconstitutional and discriminatory behavior in its surveillance of Arab American and American Muslim communities.

The lawsuit highlights some of the more absurd components of the NYPD’s surveillance program, which stretches limited counterterrorism resources to encompass effectively all active members of Arab and Muslim communities in the greater New York area:

-          Records show the NYPD took pictures of an elementary school for Muslim girls for grades pre-K-6.

-          Records show that the NYPD eavesdropped at Muslim owned grocery stores, noting the ethnicity and outfits patrons and workers wore.

-          Records also show that the NYPD extensively noted whenever a grocery store carried food products that were labeled "halal," which is akin to "kosher" for Muslims.

The plaintiffs themselves also represent the diversity of Arab and Muslim communities, in a manner rarely considered by these targeting programs. They include a decorated U.S. Army reservist, a small business owner who is also a Vietnam veteran, students and imams.

The lawsuit has also garnered support from a number of prominent law enforcement officers and policymakers, including Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who recently sponsored a Congressional resolution expressing dismay at the NYPD’s blatant violation of Constitutional rights.

"America is not safer when we spend valuable law enforcement resources on investigating the innocent multitudes rather than identifying the guilty few," said Rep. Holt in a statement to Muslim Advocates. "This lawsuit is a thoughtful, sensible step toward bringing law enforcement practices back into line with constitutional protections and the standards of good policing."

Muslim Advocates’ legal action is a powerful addition to the steadily-growing pressure on the NYPD – and its enablers in the federal government – to face up to the rampant discrimination and Islamophobia within their ranks. It shatters the pervasive narrative that Arab Americans or American Muslims have any sort of predilection toward violence or extremism, and forces the NYPD to concretely demonstrate otherwise in court.

As the first legal challenge of discriminatory surveillance of American Muslims, this case could be watershed development in the fight to restore our communities’ civil liberties. The suit has many influential proponents, and is garnering a significant amount of public attention, but old habits die hard, and it will likely be a long road ahead.

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