9 Frightening Things About America's Biggest Police Force
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3. Spying on Muslims and Fabricating the Results
In a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative series the AP revealed a NYPD surveillance program that makes the FBI and CIA look like civil liberties crusaders. To recap: for years, the department has been monitoring mosques, restaurants where Muslims eat, Muslim student organizations, and combing through the electronic communications of Muslim students at more than 13 colleges. Their investigations revealed such insightful observations as the fact that adherents to Islam pray 5 times a day.
The department insisted that their blanket surveillance of whole communities based entirely on their religion was perfectly legal. Apparently even members of the FBI disagreed. A new book by journalist Ronald Kessler (reported in the Daily News) reveals:
“What never came out is that the FBI considers the NYPD’s intelligence gathering practices since 9/11 not only a waste of money but a violation of Americans’ rights,” wrote Kessler [...] “We will not be a party to it,” an FBI source told Kessler.
The Mayor's response was so glib that 10 House Democrats called it "underhanded and unprofessional," reported the AP. When asked about criticisms by College Presidents about department surveillance of Muslim student websites, Bloomberg said, among other dismissive things, "I don't know why keeping the country safe is antithetical to the values of Yale."
Any time that the department is criticized for their civil liberties abuses, the mayor and police commissioner solemnly point to the number of terror attacks they've foiled since 9/11 -- 14, a number trustingly repeated in the media. But ProPublica investigative reporter Justin Elliot went through the trouble of looking into the administration's claim and found that of the 14 successes cited, only two could be credited to the NYPD. In the other instances, the plots were stopped by other agencies, or weren't serious threats at all, or were instigated by NYPD informants providing alleged terrorists with money and bomb-making materials.
Meanwhile, a deposition on the Muslim surveillance program revealed that in six years of spying, the NYPD's demographics unit had not come up with a single lead.
4. Targeting Activists
“They said they’d make me a deal,” Diego Ibañez, a 23-year-old Sunset Park resident, tells AlterNet. The deal, barked at him while he was in handcuffs, was that he erase the footage he’d captured of the cops arresting two young African American boys in the subway or that he could join them in jail. The “Cop Watch” initiative, in which New Yorkers exercise their legal right to film the police, has grown in response to increased police brutality, but the NYPD has been targeting anybody who tries to hold them accountable.
After spending nearly an hour under arrest, Ibañez walked away from his interaction with the police with a summons for blocking pedestrian traffic, a catch-all summons that, given that New York has a massive population crammed into the five boroughs, the police can literally use whenever they choose, which was more than 35,000 times last year. When he complained that a summons wasn’t part of the deal, the police said the deal was that he wouldn’t go to jail--that night.
“They said that filming the police was illegal, which it isn’t. But if it were illegal, then why didn’t they charge me for that?” Ibañez asked.
For more established Cop-Watchers, the police are more aggressive. One Cop Watch duo, Christina Gonzalez and Matthew Swaye, found fliers with their photos posted in police precincts criminalizing them as “professional agitators.” The NYPD targeted another long-time Harlem Cop Watcher, Joseph Hayden, slapping him with a charge of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, which means he faces two to seven years of jail time. The alleged weapons, according to Hayden and his laywer, were a souvenir Yankees baseball bat and a broken penknife that the police found in Hayden’s car after they scoured it for any excuse to nail him.