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November 20, 2011

NYPD blurring the lines of civil liberties

The Canadian Charger

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An ongoing report by the Associated Press has outlined how the NYPD, under the command of the CIA, has "carried out a series of initiatives aimed at the Muslim community of New York, often stalking, profiling and secretly surveying followers of Islam solely based on religion." This has resulted in community leaders advising Muslims to cut any ties they have with the NYPD.

The Associated Press described the NYPD’s practices as being “one of the nation’s most aggressive domestic intelligence agencies, targeting ethnic communities in ways that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government.”

According to the report the NYPD has “dispatched plainclothes officers to eavesdrop in Muslim communities, often without any evidence of wrongdoing. Restaurants serving Muslims were identified and photographed. Hundreds of mosques were investigated, and dozens were infiltrated. Police used the information to build ethnic databases on daily life inside Muslim neighborhoods.”

The NYPD’s spokesman Paul Browne responded by saying that parts of the report were “marked by outright fiction”.

He added that the NYPD commits “over a thousand officers to the fight every day to stop terrorists who’ve demonstrated an undiminished appetite to come back and kill more New Yorkers. We don’t apologize for it and we’re not deterred by petit jealousies that success made breed”.

In a somewhat contradictory statement to the one by Browne, Mayor Bloomberg responded to the allegations by saying that “[w]e live in a dangerous world, and we have to be very proactive in making sure that we prevent terrorism…As the world gets more dangerous, people are willing to have infringements on their personal freedoms that they would not before.”

If the report is “marked by outright fiction” as Browne says, and Muslims in New York are not having their civil liberties taken away, then who are these “people” that Bloomberg is saying “are willing to have infringements on their personal freedoms” taken away?

In fact in a response to the AP’s report the executive director of Women in Islam Aisha Al-Adawiya said that her community feels, “completely violated” and added that, “it really threatens, very seriously, any movement going forward, with any real sense of trust in police officers.”

The New York Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling for an investigation of the New York police.

It sounds like the Muslim community would rather not sacrifice personal freedoms so that the so-called Demographic Unit of the NYPD can profile them solely based on their religion.

The Demographic Unit is the apparent unit of the NYPD made up of 16 officers who would infiltrate “ancestries of interest” to monitor groups of Muslims and look for reasons to suspect wrongdoing.

The AP has quoted retired New York FBI agent Don Borelli as saying that intelligence gathering is key to police work, not just in terrorism cases, but that it can backfire when people feel their rights are being violated.  Borelli noted that, “these kinds of programs are actually counterproductive, because they undermine trust and drive a wedge between the community and the police.”

Of course there is nothing new when it comes to a program such as the one described in the AP’s story.  The powers that be in the US have long been “proactively” taking external threats, and without merit, violating their own citizen’s rights based on vague and superficial similarities to the enemy.

Speaking to the AP, Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke, who is also a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, says that these methods used by the NYPD “brings into memory the case of the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans during WWII.” She says that “the NYPD can do their job without profiling” and believes that “Americans shouldn’t be as quick to shrug off the Police Department going undercover to spy on their own citizens.”

It’s sad however that the only really surprising thing about this report is that it is a local, albeit huge, local law enforcement that has taken civil liberties as secondary in the fight against crime and not a federal organization like the FBI.

A recent report released by the Muslim Advocates titled Liberty: The State of Freedom 10 Years After the Patriot Act made an attempt to highlight certain tactics that the FBI have been developing since 9/11.  Their report also described the impact that some of these trends were having on the freedoms of the American Muslims that were being targeted.

They outline how the “The FBI has conflated religious beliefs and practice with criminal activity. In an intelligence assessment issued in 2006, the FBI listed converts to Islam and the (certain) distinct expressions of religious practice as indicators of potential violent activity”.

It sounds like a blueprint for the Demographic Unit of the NYPD.

“What is so disturbing about the NYPD’s activities is that (the NYPD) erroneously conflates engaging in lawful religious beliefs and practices and First Amendment-protected activities with support for terrorism,” said Udi Ofer of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “This (alleged program) is a waste of precious resources, and it raises serious constitutional concerns.”

It seems appropriate then to end with the Benjamin Franklin quote that the Muslim Advocates’ report starts with: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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M. Elmasry

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