Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Blog

In a 10-page opinion filed yesterday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, U.S. District Judge William Martini dismissed a lawsuit filed by eight Muslims in 2012 charging that the NYPD’s surveillance on the basis of religion was unconstitutional.

Judge Martini denied the plaintiffs’ claims of religious profiling and said “The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies.”

Equally troubling in the Judge’s decision were his criticisms of the reporting done by the Associated Press team which initially broke the story of the NYPD’s mapping and surveillance of Muslim student groups, mosques, Arab American grocery stores and businesses in New Jersey, New York City and beyond. “Nowhere in the complaint do the plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorized release of documents by The Associated Press,” wrote Judge Martini. “This confirms that plaintiffs’ alleged injuries flow from The Associated Press’s unauthorized disclosure of the document.”

It's very troubling that rather than focusing on the actions of the NYPD, Judge Martini instead honed in on the disclosure and manner by which the public learned of these surveillance programs and argues that the disclosure of documents was unauthorized. He also asserted that the plaintiffs lacked a showing of causation and that harm was not caused by the City but rather as a result of disclosure of documents by a third party. “The Associated Press covertly obtained the materials and published them without authorization,” Judge Martini wrote. “Thus the injury, if any existed, is not fairly traceable to the city.” 

It’s simply astonishing that Judge Martini fails to acknowledge that any harm was committed against the plaintiffs by the NYPD. The NYPD’s surveillance programs not only interfered with religious practice but created an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in the Muslim community, in places of worship, and chilled free speech and political activism. “In addition to willfully ignoring the harm that our innocent clients suffered from the NYPD’s illegal spying program, by upholding the NYPD’s blunderbuss Muslim surveillance practices, the court’s decision gives legal sanction to the targeted discrimination of Muslims anywhere and everywhere in this country, without limitation, for no other reason than their religion,” said Baher Azmy Legal Director of The Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based civil rights organization representing the plaintiffs.  

This decision is nothing short of appalling. Targeting communities on the basis of religion, national origin, or ethnicity by state law enforcement is in violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The NYPD’s surveillance programs targeted innocent Americans on the basis of 1st Amendment protected activities, and mapped and conducted surveillance of communities without any evidence of wrongdoing. Muslim and Arab American communities in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere have experienced harm as a result of these surveillance programs. Moreover, the court's decision to absolve the City of any wrongdoing and move to censure the AP for its superb coverage and dissemination of information about the NYPD’s surveillance programs is simply abhorrent.  

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