NYPD 'Outraged' at Ted Cruz's Plan to Patrol Muslim Neighborhoods That Was Inspired by NYPD

The NYPD has spent years illegally spying on Muslim communities and innocent people.

NYPD police commissioner Bill Bratton.
Photo Credit: Diana Robinson/flickr/creative commons

The NYPD, which has spent years unlawfully spying on Muslim communities, is claiming moral outrage after presidential hopeful Ted Cruz called on Tuesday for law enforcement patrols of Muslim neighborhoods across the country.

The candidate who has prescribed the carpet-bombing of densely populated cities and the favoring of Christian Syrian refugees over Muslims declared Tuesday, in the aftermath of the Brussels attacks, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Cruz also called for an immediate halt to “the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence.” 

Cruz’s declaration provoked outrage and concern across the country, including from Muslim-American communities, which have suffered a spike in hate crimes, from the destruction of mosques to violent attacks on people. The Council on American-Islamic Relations demanded that Cruz “retract and apologize for his unconstitutional policy proposal.”

Striking a seemingly progressive tone, the NYPD quickly issued its own criticisms. “The statements [Cruz] made today is why he’s not going to become president of this country,” declared NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton on Tuesday. “We don’t need a president that doesn’t respect the values that form the foundation of this country.”

But Josmar Trujillo, a writer and grassroots organizer with New Yorkers Against Bratton, told AlterNet, “To think that the NYPD could be a spokesperson for progressive values or Muslim rights, they must think we are stupid.”

Bratton, one of the most powerful law enforcement figures in the country, is the architect of stop-and-frisk policing, which overwhelmingly targets black and Latino people. He recently attracted significant criticism for saying Black Lives Matter demonstrations were responsible for the murder of two police officers and treating their movements like a terrorist threat. Bratton has used the specter of terrorism to press for expanded police powers, including access to phone data and ongoing, massive law enforcement deployments throughout New York.

The commissioner has a disturbing history of targeting Muslims. When he was the LAPD chief, Bratton oversaw, and publicly defended the department’s plan to map entire Muslim neighborhoods, despite public outcry from Muslim and human rights communities. “This is not… targeting or profiling," Bratton said in 2007. "It is an effort to understand communities.”

Now Bratton’s colleagues are publicly rebuking Cruz for advocating related policies. NYPD spokesperson J. Peter Donald took to Twitter on Tuesday to call Cruz’s statement “incendiary” and “foolish.” As of publication, his tweet was shared 2,467 times and had 3,235 "likes."

The NYPD’s objections come shortly after the department settled two civil rights lawsuits for illegally spying on Muslims after 9/11. According to a fact sheet from the ACLU, “Since at least 2002, the New York City Police Department’s Intelligence Division has engaged in the religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslims in New York City and beyond.” Such programs have targeted mosques, schools and student groups that have shown no sign of wrongdoing.

Under an NYPD squad first called the Demographics Unit and later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit, the force mapped communities within and beyond the city’s borders. The NYPD claimed to have disbanded the unit in 2014, but as Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s national security project, recently pointed out in a statement about one of the settlements, the shuttering of that unit did not address other abuses, including “the widespread use of informants who infiltrated community mainstays to spy on innocent people.”

“The settlement in our case should send a forceful message that discourages police practices that are unlawful and unnecessary,” Shamsi told AlterNet.

Ted Cruz cited the NYPD's history of unlawful practices as direct inspiration for his post-Brussels call. In response to criticism, Cruz elaborated, “If you look here in the city of New York, New York had a proactive policing program that Mayor Michael Bloomberg championed to work cooperatively with the Muslim community to prevent radicalization.”

Cruz also lashed out at Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appears to be drawing closer to Bratton. "When heroes of NYPD stood up and turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio, they spoke not just for the men and women of New York, but for Americans all across this nation,” said Cruz, referencing tensions in 2015 when thousands of police protested the mayor over his perceived support for the anti-police brutality movement.

Cruz’s call for nationwide patrols is disturbing and dangerous given the climate of racist incitement and violence in the 2016 election cycle.

But Trujillo cautioned that de Blasio and NYPD leaders should not be mistaken for progressives just because they are criticizing Cruz's proposals. “They want to seem less racist and problematic than someone like Ted Cruz,” Trujillo said. “But when it comes to the way the NYPD treats New Yorkers, that’s completely hypocritical.”

Bill Bratton, NYPD spokesperson J. Peter Donald and Mayor de Blasio did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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