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Bratton and NYPD Still Spying On Muslims

The NYPD Intelligence Division has transformed into a paramilitary agency that chills speech and activism in the Muslim community.

Photo Credit: Ciar/Wikimedia Commons


Linda Sarsour has waited over two years for a new police commissioner who would halt the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) blanket spy program targeting Muslims.  

Sarsour, one of the most prominent Muslim-American faces in the fight against surveillance, spoke and met with former top cop Ray Kelly numerous times during his tenure. She even played soccer with Kelly and sat next to him while at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s annual iftar (the meal that breaks the fast during the holy month of Ramadan). But she started refusing to meet with Kelly in August 2011, which is when the Associated Press first began to expose the department’s infiltration of Muslim student groups, designation of mosques as “terrorist enterprises” and mapping of ethnic communities by the so-called “Demographics Unit” of the Intelligence Division.  

The organization Sarsour runs--the Arab-American Association of New York--was a direct target of NYPD spying.  In August 2013, the Associated Press’ Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman revealed that the police sought to place an informant on the board of the group. As S arsour wrote in a 2012 blog post: “While we were letting them in the front door, their informants were infiltrating our mosques, and our community was illegally being spied on.”

Bill de Blasio’s ascent to the seat of New York City mayor in 2013 was supposed to inaugurate a new era, one of collaboration with the communities the NYPD patrols.  On the campaign trail, de Blasio said that he was “troubled” by the reports of “blanket surveillance.”

Then the new progressive mayor appointed Bill Bratton, the commissioner who introduced harsh “broken windows” policing when Rudy Giuliani was mayor of the city in the 1990s.  While Bratton has disbanded one unit that mapped the Muslim community, he has continued other surveillance practices that ensnare Muslims.  

“The appointment of Bratton left many of us surprised and skeptical,” said Sarsour, who, as founder and president of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, mobilized the Muslim vote for de Blasio.  “We weren’t jumping for joy.”  There was ample reason for Sarsour to feel that way.

Bratton, also the former Los Angeles police chief, once backed a program that would map the Muslim community in LA as a way to fight terrorism, before backing off in the face of widespread outrage.  He went on to spearhead the use of Suspicious Activity Reports, a program where LAPD officials are directed to collect intelligence on behavior--including taking notes, espousing extremist views or using binoculars--that might indicate terrorist activity.  The American Civil Liberties Union attacked the reports as opening “the door to racial profiling and other improper police behavior.”

“His record doesn’t really bode well given the impacts of his policies the first time around in NYC, and then in Los Angeles,” Fahd Ahmed, the legal and policy director for DRUM - South Asian Organizing Center, told AlterNet.

Now, Bratton is once again the target of criticism over his continuation of spy programs targeting the Muslim community in New York, one of many ways that Muslim-Americans nationwide have felt the brunt of the “war on terror.”  In May, the New York Times’ Joseph Goldstein revealed that the NYPD continues to field an army of informants, culled from Muslim immigrants or those with Arab sounding names who have been charged with petty crimes.  The city continues to battle the American Civil Liberties Union in court over the surveillance program.  And there has been no indication that one of the most controversial parts of the NYPD’s spy program--the labeling of mosques as “terrorism enterprises”--has stopped.

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